Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Friday, 23 June 2017

This Cross-Party Group Of MPs Wants Free NHS Abortion Services For Northern Irish Women

This Cross-Party Group Of MPs Wants Free NHS Abortion Services For Northern Irish Women

The Debrief: Does this signify unease in Parliament over the government's potential alliance with an anti-abortion party?

Since news emerged that a deal, formal or informal, was on the cards between the Conservatives and the DUP abortion rights in Northern Ireland, or rather the lack thereof, has been pushed back up the agenda. 

If anything remotely positive has come out of the hung parliament it is that the DUP’s anti-abortion stance is, along with Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt’s decision not to allow Northern Irish women access to abortion services on the NHS in England, under public and political scrutiny. 

Last week, a Supreme Court judgement narrowly ruled (3-2) that the current ban on funding abortions for women from Northern Ireland is not unlawful. This was not for financial reasons or legal constraints but based on the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt’s political considerations and ‘respect’ for the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

In light of this, a group of cross-party MPs are arguing the case for the provisions to be made available. The Supreme Court judgement coincided almost exactly with the start of talks between the minority Conservative government and the DUP which are still yet to be finalised. 

The group, which is being co-ordinated by Labour MP Stella Creasy, has tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech asking for the government to consider passing a law so that women travelling from Northern Ireland can access services on the NHS when in England. 

Exact figures for how many women travel from Northern Ireland for abortion services every year are unknown but it’s thought to be thousands. Does cross-party support for the women of Northern Ireland signify the extent of unease in Parliament about an alliance with the DUP?

As one judge, who found in favour of Northern Irish women being granted funded abortion services noted, it is hard to understand why paying for the abortions of Northern Irish women in England would constitute a lack of ‘respect’, when allowing these women to come to England to access them at their own cost does not. 

The amendment, which will allow Parliament to vote on this, has been signed by Conservative Peter Bottomley, the SNP’s Alison Thewliss, Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas and 20 Labour MPs including Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. 

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) also point out that ‘over the past four years, the government has spent £3m through the Department for International Development to help women in developing countries access safe abortion services’. Meanwhile, there are women in the UK who cannot access safe abortion services for free.  

Clare Murphy, bpas Director of External Affairs, told The Debrief ‘as our Prime Minister looks to Northern Ireland to ensure her government can govern, it’s absolutely right that the reproductive health needs of the women who live there are addressed. When faced with an unplanned pregnancy, or a pregnancy they cannot continue, Northern Irish women must travel to England for care at huge personal cost, or if they cannot afford to do so, take their chances by using abortion medication bought online – risking life imprisonment in the process.’

She added, ‘the UK rightly provides aid to ensure women in developing countries have access to safe abortion care. We do this because we know giving women the ability to make decisions about childbearing and access to safe services to exercise those choices is fundamental to women’s health and equality.   We ask simply that the same principle and the same access to safe services are afforded to women from our own country.’

You might also be interested in:

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The Queen's Speech Show Us If You Vote, You Will Be Heard 

10 Things To Know About The DUP

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Tags: Abortion