Justine Greening, Minister for Women and Equalities, has penned a letter about the Government’s plans to fund abortions in England for Northern Irish women.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond confirmed the agreement earlier today, during the Queen’s Speech debate in the House of Commons.
The news comes just hours before MPs were due to vote on an amendment, which would have called for the government fund Northern Irish abortions in England.
Labour MP Stella Creasy had forced a vote by tabling an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, but the shortly before MPs conducted the vote, the government announced that women who travelled from Northern Ireland to England for abortions would no longer have to fund them.
As the news was announced, Justine Greening, Minister for Women and Equalities, sent a letter to MPs concerning the situation of Northern Irish abortions.
The letter reads:
“I am writing to you regarding Amendment (d) selected as part of the Queen’s Speech debate concerning abortions performed in England for women from Northern Ireland.”
“As Minister for Women and Equalities, I share the concerns of many colleagues about the experience of women from Northern Ireland obtaining an abortion through the NHS in England.”
“As you will know, abortion in Great Britain is governed by the Abortion Act 1967 – originally a Private Member’s Bill. Abortion law has always been in this House a matter of conscience for individual Members.”
“Resident of Northern Ireland are currently able to access abortion services in England but, in general, must make their own private arrangements for so doing, because health policy is a devolved matter. The longstanding position in Northern Ireland has been that abortion is only funded and permissible in very limited circumstances.”
“At present women from Northern Ireland are asked for payment, and from now on it is our proposal that this will no longer happen. This is clearly a sensitive issue and one which has direct implications for equality in treatment of women from Northern Ireland. Following discussions with the Department of Health, we will ensure these payments will be funded through the Government Equalities Office with additional funding. This will mean no English health service user is disadvantaged as a result of this change.”
“Funding for the services will be made available through the Government Equalities Office, allowing the Department of Health to commission abortion services in England for those from Northern Ireland.”
“The Supreme Court judgement made clear that we have the power to make these arrangements. The Government’s position continues to be that we want to see safe abortion services provided for women who may need them – within the bounds of law.”
“None of this changes the fundamental position that this is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland. It is for the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide on their policy going forward. This announcement does not change that position.”
Currently, women in Northern Ireland are not allowed to have abortions unless under very rare circumstances. The Infant Life (Preservation) Act permits terminations if they will preserve the life of the mother.
The Northern Ireland Executive also state that abortions are only permitted if the mother’s life is at risk or if there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.
Under Northern Irish laws, abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest are not permitted.
In 2015, a High Court judge ruled that the current law on abortion in Northern Ireland was incompatible with human rights law.
Today’s announcement comes just weeks after The Fawcett Society issued a letter to the Prime Minister urging her to protect abortion rights.
The open letter came in the wake of the General Election results, which yielded a hung parliament and the news that Theresa May was looking to strike a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland.
The DUP are known for their anti-abortion stance, and are firmly against extending abortion rights in Northern Ireland.