A government scheme to provide free abortion services in England for women travelling from Northern Ireland is today welcomed by the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Abortion Support Network, Alliance for Choice, Amnesty International UK, the Family Planning Association, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), Marie Stopes UK, and Stella Creasy MP.
The plans were revealed at Westminster by Equalities Minister Justine Greening, just days before the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act. The Act legalised abortion in certain circumstances in England, Wales and Scotland, but not Northern Ireland.
More than 700 women a year travel to Great Britain from Northern Ireland for terminations. Up until now, they've had to pay for their own care. Following discussions with the aforementioned pro-choice campaigners, Minister Greening’s announcement moves towards addressing this major inequality.
The plans include:
- travel and accommodation costs to be covered for women on low incomes*
- procedures will be free at the point of delivery, rather than paid for upfront and reimbursed
- a central telephone booking system through which clients will be able to arrange an appointment with a healthcare professional in England
- the scheme will be in place by the end of 2017
*income of less than £15,276, or in receipt of income support/ income-based JSA, income-related ESA or Pension Guarantee Credit
Responding to the announcement, Stella Creasy MP said: “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.”
Sarah Fox of the London-Irish Abortion Campaign said: “This is a major breakthrough for the reproductive rights of women* from Northern Ireland, who currently face life in prison if they procure an abortion at home.
“We welcome the government’s commitment to creating a system which is as straightforward as possible and free at the point of use. We particularly welcome the decision to cover travel and accommodation costs for low income women. Of course, it is still unjustifiable that women will have to endure the distress and discomfort of leaving their own country. We continue to call on local politicians to overturn the abortion ban so women can access free, safe and legal abortions in Northern Ireland.”
*women includes trans and non binary persons
Mara Clarke, director of the Abortion Support Network, which provides financial assistance to women in need of abortions, said: "ASN is thrilled by this move to reduce the huge financial costs associated with travelling for an abortion, which can often total up to £2,000. However, it is important to state that this measure will not help women who are unable to travel due to childcare issues, controlling partners, or because they are undocumented.
"This, like the services provided by ASN, is a sticking plaster But it’s a substantial sticking plaster.”
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers said: "For half a century Northern Irish women and girls have been second class citizens, unable to access healthcare services freely available to women in Great Britain. This new scheme in England is very welcome, but now the law in Northern Ireland must change.”
Emma Campbell of Alliance for Choice said: “Alliance for Choice breathe a sigh of relief for the thousands of women and pregnant people that will now find it financially easier to access abortion treatment in England. Fewer women will now have to risk prosecution just because they cannot afford to pay for an abortion. We hope that this progress will not stop the push for true equality, when abortion seekers in NI will no longer be exiled for healthcare.”
Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland Campaign Manager for Amnesty International said “This is an important step forward for the rights of women and girls from Northern Ireland being respected when it comes to decisions about their own bodies. However, it does not diminish the urgent need for the UK Government to prioritise ending the inequality Northern Irish women face on abortion. Although health and justice are devolved matters, ensuring that the human rights of all UK citizens are upheld is Westminster’s responsibility.”
Laura Russell, Policy Manager for the sexual health charity FPA, said: “Women living in Northern Ireland are UK citizens and taxpayers, but until just a few months ago they had to pay privately to access abortion care in England - the same healthcare that women living in England can access for free.
“So we congratulate the government on lifting a major obstacle to UK citizens accessing essential healthcare. But the fact remains that women still have to cross the sea to get healthcare which they should be able to get at home."
Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, said “We welcome today’s announcement, which we hope will provide women with the clarity and information they need at what can be an incredibly stressful time. 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. Politicians, both in Belfast and Westminster, must work to provide Northern Irish women with the care they need at home.”
Richard Bentley, Managing Director at Marie Stopes UK, said: “This is a momentous step forward for women in Northern Ireland. We’ve been heartened that the UK Government has not only acknowledged the inequality Northern Irish women seeking abortion have faced for the last 50 years, but is taking positive steps to address it.
“Ultimately, we believe Northern Irish law should change to ensure women have the right to access services in their home country. Until that becomes reality, we look forward to working closely with government so that women travelling from Northern Ireland can receive the funded NHS care they deserve.”
Women and pregnant people who need information and support can call the FPA's helpline in Northern Ireland on 0345 122 8687. Or those with financial need can contact the Abortion Support Network for help with funding on 07897 611 593
Notes for Editors:
Information on abortion:
If you need to access abortion care services in England you can contact the following abortion care providers, where you will be able to access services for free:
bpas operates over 70 abortion care clinics around England. You can call their 24 hour phone line on 03457 30 40 30 to book an appointment or make an enquiry. If you are deaf or hard of hearing with a textphone, call the bpas textphone on 0345 365 1450
NUPAS runs clinics in Birmingham, Stoke, Greater Manchester and Greater London. To book an appointment or make an enquiry call 0333 004 6666
Marie Stopes UK operates over 70 clinics in England, and their advice line is open 24 hours. Call them on 0345 300 3737 to book an appointment or make an enquiry
For counselling and support services in Northern Ireland, you can call FPA (the Family Planning Association) on 0345 122 8687 from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday (except bank holidays). They will be able to give you information and support, and you can book an appointment for pregnancy choices counselling at their office in central Belfast.
If you are struggling to access funding for travel or accommodation, Abortion Support Network provides financial assistance and confidential, non-judgmental information on travel. You can call them on 07897 611593.
London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign - Cara Sanquest: 079 5556 6182 / 00353863346762
Abortion Support Network - Mara Clarke: 07913 353 530
Office of Stella Creasy MP: 020 7219 6980
Alliance 4 Choice: Emma Campbell: 07894063965
Amnesty International UK - Grainne Teggart: 07928042315
Family Planning Association - Press Office: 020 7608 5265
Marie Stopes UK – Press Office : 07769 166 516
Bpas – Press Office: 0207 061 3377
London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign
The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign is a 1000-strong, grassroots organisation which brings people in London together to campaign for abortion rights in Ireland and Northern Ireland. We believe free, safe, legal abortion and work to bring about change through direct action, engaging with the media, engaging with politicians and policy-makers, fundraising and legal activism. We launched in September 2016, with a march to the Irish embassy to represent the 77 women a week who travel to England from Ireland for abortions. www.londonirisharc.com
Abortion Support Network
Abortion Support Network (ASN) is a charity that provides financial assistance, confidential, non-judgemental information and accommodation in volunteer homes to people forced to travel from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man and pay privately for abortions in England. The cost ranges between £400 and £2000 depending on circumstance and stage of pregnancy. While many organisations campaign for much needed law reform, ASN is the only group providing those travelling for abortions with the thing they need most immediately: money. www.asn.org.uk.
Stella Creasy MP
Stella Creasy is a Labour MP for Walthamstow who is committed to womens’ rights and equality issues. In June 2017, Stella tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech in response to the fact that Jeremy Hunt fought and won a court case on his right to charge Northern Irish women for abortions if they have them in England and Wales. At the time, she stated’ Whilst the UK funds access to abortion through its overseas aid budget, we deny our own citizens the same support’. The amendment received cross party support and was withdrawn after Stella received a commitment from Jeremy Hunt to fund abortions in Britain for women from Northern Ireland.
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. She is a public law specialist, with particular expertise in prison law, community care, children’s rights and inquest law. The majority of her work involves urgent human-rights related judicial review. In the Supreme Court, Caoilfhionn acted for A and B, who challenged the Secretary of State for Health’s policy of excluding provision as part of the NHS in England for women such as A who are resident in Northern Ireland and seek abortion services in England.
Alliance for Choice
Alliance for Choice is an activist group campaigning for free, safe and legal abortion in Northern Ireland. Much of our work has been about removing stigma and giving voice to the tens of thousands of women and pregnant people from Northern Ireland who had abortions in England and elsewhere, or illegally with pills that carry the threat of prosecution. www.alliance4choice.com
We're the sexual health charity FPA. We give straightforward information and support on sexual and reproductive health. We help parents talk to their children about growing up, support health professionals, campaign for better sexual health services and fight for the rights of all young people to have appropriate relationships and sex education. We campaign for abortion rights across the UK, and provide the only non-directive pregnancy choices counselling service in Northern Ireland. www.fpa.org.uk
Amnesty International UK
As a global movement of over 7 million people, Amnesty International is the world's largest grassroots human rights organisation. We investigate and expose abuses, educate and mobilise the public, and help transform societies to create a safer, more just world. www.amnesty.org.uk
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.
Marie Stopes UK
Marie Stopes UK is the leading independent provider of sexual and reproductive health services in the UK. Our team of highly skilled doctors, nurses, counsellors and health care assistants provide reproductive and sexual health services through the NHS for over 100,000 women and men every year in our network of clinics around the UK. www.mariestopes.org.uk