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BPAS welcomes MPs’ move to give Northern Irish women the same access to family planning and safe abortion as other UK women

Published 22 July 2008

Today a cross-party group of MPs tabled a new clause to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill intending to give women in Northern Ireland access to safe, legal and funded abortion in their own country. Northern Irish women are the only women in the UK who are  

-not covered by the 1967 Abortion Act

-denied the possibility of abortion treatment in their own country

-denied NHS funding for an abortion taking place in another country where the procedure is legal, despite paying the same taxes as other UK citizens.

If supported by MPs, the new clause would extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland, equalising Northern Ireland’s healthcare with the rest of the UK.  

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will return to the House of Commons in October and MPs are expected to have a free vote on this issue then. Since 1967, Northern Irish women who have been able to pay for private treatment have been forced to travel abroad to access a safe abortion.

As in every country where abortion access is restricted, young and poor women in Northern Ireland bear the brunt of this basic health inequality and have no meaningful right to a planned family.

The issue of unintended pregnancy and abortion in Northern Ireland has not gone away over the years and recently, concerns have been raised about Northern Irish women turning to unregulated internet sites in an attempt to get an abortion in their own country.

Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, the sexual and reproductive healthcare charity which offers abortion care to women coming from Northern Ireland, welcomed the MPs’ move, saying

‘BPAS has seen tens of thousands of women from Northern Ireland over the past forty years, who have travelled to our clinics for abortion care at great financial and emotional cost. We firmly believe that women in Northern Ireland should have exactly the same access to treatment as women in the rest of the UK.

‘Women in Northern Ireland expect to be able to plan their families in just the same way that as women do elsewhere. Women in Northern Ireland are no less prone to contraceptive failure, or failure to use contraception properly than women are anywhere else. Why doesn’t a woman who lives in Newcastle, County Down have the same healthcare rights as a woman who lives in Newcastle-upon-Tyne?’

ENDS


NOTES to EDITORS:

 

Women in Northern Ireland are still subject to the prohibitions of the 1861 Offences against the Person Act in respect of abortion, as Northern Ireland was excluded from the 1967 Abortion Act. They are not entitled to the same funded NHS care for abortion as other tax payers.

 

A woman who has been made pregnant after rape or incest or both, or who is carrying a foetus with major congenital abnormalities is not entitled to an abortion in Northern Ireland. Women are expected to continue the pregnancy and give birth.

Women in Northern Ireland do not have the same reproductive and abortion rights that the UK Government advocates for (and provides funds for) in developing countries, in the interests of safe motherhood and family planning. 

The only grounds for a legal abortion in Northern Ireland are where 'there is a threat to the life of the woman, or a risk of real and serious harm to her long-term or permanent health (physical or mental)'. 60-80 abortions are performed in Northern Ireland each year on this basis. 

Department of Health statistics show that in 2007 alone, 1,343 Northern Irish women travelled to England and Wales for a private abortion. Since the 1967 Abortion Act, official data show that almost 50,000 women have travelled from Northern Ireland to England and Wales to access abortion. Other women seek abortion in other European countries. 

NI women must find at short notice up to £2,000 to pay for travel, accommodation and the cost of treatment. No help is available for vulnerable or young women, less wealthy women, unsupported, socially excluded women, learning disabled women, or women with uncertain residency status in this respect.

Women required to travel for care obtain their abortion later than necessary, which is to their emotional, physical and financial detriment. For financial reasons, most must journey alone without the emotional support of their mother, friend or partner.

There have been recorded deaths of women from illegal back-street abortion in Northern Ireland. 

Abortion is not a devolved matter to Scotland, but exceptionally, is proposed to be devolved to Northern Ireland when they take responsibility for the criminal law in future. Northern Ireland MPs in Westminster voted in May 2008 to reduce the upper time limit for abortions to 12 weeks in England, Scotland and Wales. Abortion is a free vote issue in the Commons at every stage of the HFE Bill.

The status quo violates Northern Irish womens’ rights as UK citizens under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on Ending all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  

The move to end health inequality by giving women in Northern Ireland access to safe, legal abortion is supported by the British Medical Association, fpa¸ BPAS, Marie Stopes International, Brook, Antenatal Results and Choices, Abortion Rights, Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion, Education for Choice, the Pro-Choice Forum, the Trade Union Movement and religious groups.

Voice for Choice is a coalition of charities and groups calling for policymakers to defend and extend women's choice on abortion - http://www.vfc.org.uk/

Amendments to the Abortion Act 1967 tabled to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill appear as new clauses, as abortion is not contained within the text of the Bill. The amendment tabled is New Clause 30.

New Clause 30 Amendment of the Abortion Act 1967: Application to Northern Ireland Diane AbbottJacqui Lait, Dr Evan Harris, Katy Clark, John Bercow, John McDonnell To move the following Clause:—

'(1) Section 7 of the Abortion Act 1967 (c.87) (short title, commencement and extent) is amended as follows.

(2) For subsection (3) substitute—        

"(3) This Act extends to Northern Ireland.".’


For information and comment on women coming to mainland Britain for abortion care please contact the BPAS Press office on 020 7612 0206.

For comment on the situation in Northern Ireland, please call the fpa (formerly Family Planning Association) press office on 020 7608 5265/5264 to ask about their work there.

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