Today, over 40 cross-party policymakers have signed a letter supported by sexual health charity FPA, BPAS, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, calling on the Secretary of State for Health to remove the ban on NHS-funded abortion for women travelling from Northern Ireland.
This follows a narrowly-defeated appeal at the Supreme Court earlier this month challenging the existing policy. However, the Court did make it clear that the Secretary of State holds the power to end the current discriminatory two-tier system, which denies services to women in Northern Ireland that are freely available in the rest of the UK.
That’s why over 40 Members of Parliament (MPs), Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and peers have called for change. While continuing the campaign for change within Northern Ireland, these politicians are calling on Jeremy Hunt MP to use his unique ability to reduce the financial strain on women who are prevented from accessing abortion services at home.
Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, said:
“It’s clear parliamentarians from across the house, and clinicians, are deeply concerned that what happens to UK taxpayers in English hospitals appears to be being dictated by Stormont. With voices on all sides backing the rights of Northern Irish women to be able to have an abortion in England on the NHS, The Government now needs to come clean on just who is stopping them from ensuring these women can use these vital healthcare services in England and Wales and whether the question of abortion access has been discussed as part of their agreement with the DUP.”
Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Hull North, said:
“As the Supreme Court judgement on 14th June made clear, it is absolutely wrong to suggest that the Northern Irish assembly has any role in deciding how Northern Irish women should access abortion services in England. The UK Government, and the UK Government alone, bears the responsibility for denying them these services.
“The Health Secretary therefore has an overwhelming moral responsibility to change his policy. Neither he, nor any Government Minister, can any longer hide behind the pretence that his policy has anything to do with devolution.
“Providing equal health treatment in England would cost us hardly anything, but it will mean everything to a small and vulnerable group of Northern Irish women, who come to England in desperation. We can no longer turn our backs to such a grave and unfair inequity.”
Green Party MLA for South Belfast, Clare Bailey, said:
“The Secretary of State for Health speaks of “respect” for democratic decisions when it comes to granting access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland. Respect should mean equality for women in Northern Ireland and access to free, safe and legal health services that they part fund as UK taxpayers.
“The Family Planning Association and British Pregnancy Advisory Service have developed a fully costed plan which would provide a way for women to access NHS abortion services in England. This plan gives women the power to make choices about their reproductive healthcare without undermining the democratic decision making process in Northern Ireland.
“I echo the calls for Jeremy Hunt to reduce the significant financial burden, the stigma and cruelty inflicted on local women when they are forced to travel to access abortion services.
“For too long the UK government have been complicit in the continued denial of minimum human rights standards to women in Northern Ireland. The failure to allow women access to abortion on the NHS compounds their failure to adhere to international human rights norms.”
Laura Russell, Policy Manager for the sexual health charity FPA, said:
“While the UK Government has rightly spent £3 million over 4 years on supporting reproductive rights around the world, it would have cost just £350,500 to fund abortions for all women who travelled to England and Wales from Northern Ireland in 2016. The Secretary of State himself has argued that this is not an issue of cost, but one of “respect” to the democratic process in Northern Ireland.
“While continuing to campaign for change within Northern Ireland itself, it is clear that politicians across party boundaries, in Great Britain and Northern Ireland agree that his policy should be changed, to show and deliver a health service with compassion, respect and dignity for all UK citizens.
“It’s great to see cross-party support for change for women in Northern Ireland, who (when seeking an abortion) have to travel far from their home, pay up to thousands of pounds or risk prosecution by purchasing medical abortion pills online. We see the devastating effect this has every day through our pregnancy choices counselling service in Northern Ireland, which supports women facing unplanned or crisis pregnancies.
“The Secretary of State should rectify this unfair policy, which causes the greatest harm to those without the means to travel.”
Clare Murphy, bpas Director of External Affairs, said:
“It is a travesty that in the 21st century women in Northern Ireland are unable to access abortion care where they live. If they do not have the means to travel to England, women needing to end a pregnancy must order pills online, risking life imprisonment in the process. This is totally unacceptable.
While we wait for Northern Ireland’s political leaders to do what is right and provide care for women at home, we urge the Secretary of State to use the powers he acknowledges he has to provide funded care for these women, who are UK citizens and taxpayers, and deserve no less.”
The full list of co-signatories:
Alex Sobel MP, Leeds North West, Labour
Anneliese Dodds MP, Oxford East, Labour
Baroness Barker, Liberal Democrat
Baroness Walmsley, Liberal Democrat
Caroline Lucas MP, Brighton Pavilion, Green Party of England and Wales
Cat Smith MP, Lancaster and Fleetwood, Labour
Chi Onwurah MP, Newcastle upon Tyne Central, Labour
Chris Bryant MP, Rhondda, Labour
Chuka Umunna MP, Streatham, Labour
Clare Bailey MLA, South Belfast, Green Party of Northern Ireland
David Lammy MP, Tottenham, Labour
Diana Johnson MP, Kingston upon Hull North, Labour
Doug Beattie MLA, Upper Bann, Ulster Unionist Party
Dr Daniel Poulter MP, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Conservative
Eamonn McCann, former MLA, People Before Profit
Ellie Reeves MP, Lewisham West and Penge, Labour
Emma Hardy MP, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, Labour
Emma Lewell-Buck MP, South Shields, Labour
Gerry Carroll MLA, West Belfast, People Before Profit
Gill Furniss MP, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, Labour
Grahame Morris MP, Easington, Labour
Heidi Alexander MP, Lewisham East, Labour
Hywel Williams MP, Arfon, Plaid Cymru
Ian Murray MP, Edinburgh South, Labour
Jess Phillips MP, Birmingham Yardley, Labour
Jo Platt MP, Leigh, Labour
Jo Stevens MP, Cardiff Central, Labour
Jo Swinson MP, East Dunbartonshire, Liberal Democrat
John Stewart MLA, East Antrim, Ulster Unionist Party
Jonathan Bartley, Co-Leader, Green Party of England and Wales
Kate Green MP, Stretford and Urmston, Labour
Layla Moran MP, Oxford West and Abingdon, Liberal Democrat
Lilian Greenwood MP, Nottingham South, Labour
Liz Kendall MP, Leicester West, Labour
Lord Lester of Herne Hill, Liberal Democrat
Lord Rogan, Ulster Unionist Party
Madeleine Moon MP, Bridgend, Labour
Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, Loughborough, Conservative
Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, North Norfolk, Liberal Democrat
Paula Bradshaw MLA, South Belfast, Alliance
Paula Sherriff MP, Dewsbury, Labour
Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Worthing West, Conservative
Dr Rupa Huq MP, Ealing Central and Acton, Labour
Sandy Martin MP, Ipswich, Labour
Stella Creasy MP, Walthamstow, Labour
Stephen Farry MLA, North Down, Alliance
Stephen Doughty MP, Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour
Steven Agnew MLA, North Down, Green Party of Northern Ireland
Stewart Dickson MLA, East Antrim, Alliance
Tommy Sheppard MP, Edinburgh East, SNP
Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Gower, Labour
Trevor Lunn MLA, Lagan Valley, Alliance
Tulip Siddiq MP, Hampstead and Kilburn, Labour
Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Labour
Yvonne Fovargue MP, Makerfield, Labour
The full letter is available here.
For more information please contact the bpas press office on 0207 061 3377, 07788 725185 or firstname.lastname@example.org
bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org