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Low-income Northern Irish women seeking NHS abortions to receive government travel grants

Women and Equalities minister Justine Greening confirms women will be able to access free terminations in England

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 23 October 2017 19:17 BST
The Government has confirmed plans to allow Northern Irish women to access free abortions in England
The Government has confirmed plans to allow Northern Irish women to access free abortions in England (Getty)

Deprived women from Northern Ireland seeking an abortion in England will be offered help with their travel costs under new Government plans to allow them free access to terminations.

Women and Equalities minister Justine Greening said Northern Irish women would be able to apply for 'hardship' grants to travel to England where they will be eligible for free, fully funded abortions.

Hundreds of women cross the Irish Sea each year due to strict abortion laws in Northern Ireland, where the procedure is illegal except in a limited number of cases.

The Government announced it would give Northern Irish women free access to termination earlier this year, in an attempt to head off a rebellion on the Queen's Speech.

In a written statement, Ms Greening said women would be able to book free consultations and procedures by phone by the end of the year

She said: "We intend that women from Northern Ireland will access the service through existing providers of abortions in England, in the same way that women in England do.

"We have invited providers of abortions in England to apply for funding to extend their service provision to women from Northern Ireland. The funding will be accessed via a grant scheme that will be administered by the Department of Health.

"The cost of this service will be met by the Government Equalities Office with additional funding provided by HM Treasury."

The move does not impact on the abortion ban in Northern Ireland, as the matter is reserved to the government in Belfast, she said.

Ms Greening said ministers would reimburse the three main abortion providers in England, which have not been charging Northern Irish residents since the move was announced.

Labour MP Stella Creasy, who spearheaded the campaign, said in a statement on social media: "It has been a shame on our country for too long that women in Northern Ireland were denied their basic human right to control what happens to their own bodies - today we took a step forward in addressing that injustice, with a scheme that will give them support to come to England for healthcare assistance and I want to thank all those involved in making that happen for their work bringing this proposal to reality.

"But today we also pledge to keep standing with them until they have equal access to abortion services in Northern Ireland itself - our sisters need to have their human rights to be upheld and we won't give up until they have so."

A spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) welcomed the announcement but urged politicians to go further to challenge the "injustice of Northern Ireland's archaic abortion laws".

The spokesperson said: "After decades of political impasse on abortion rights in Northern Ireland, the government’s commitment to fund abortion care in England is a policy that will make a real difference. Bpas will also be funding travel and accommodation for those women who meet the government's eligibility criteria until a permanent framework is in place.

“However, funded treatment in England is not the solution to the injustice of Northern Ireland’s archaic abortion laws. We know that even with financial support, the barriers to travelling for treatment will be insurmountable for some women."

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