Wales and Scotland offer free abortions to women from Northern Ireland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 July, 2017, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 July, 2017, 10:49pm

The Welsh and Scottish governments will offer free abortions to Northern Irish women, their leaders have confirmed, after the UK government said last week it would fund the procedures in order to head off a Commons revolt on the Queen’s speech.

The confirmation came as the Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley Jr said his party would not compromise its hardline stance against abortion, even if it meant risking its agreement to support the Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May.

Carwyn Jones, the Welsh first minister, told the Welsh assembly on Tuesday that the Labour administration there would match the government’s promise to fund abortions for women travelling from Northern Ireland.

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Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe making it near impossible to have the procedure. Women who travelled to England, Scotland or Wales faced charges of about £900 (US$1,165) to have an abortion on the NHS, despite being UK taxpayers.

Though the Department of Health fought a supreme court challenge to defend the charges, last week the UK government dramatically changed its policy in an attempt to head off a damaging Tory rebellion on the Queen’s speech, with as many as 40 Conservative MPs indicating they supported an amendment on the issue tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy.

As pressure mounted, Justine Greening, the education secretary and equalities minister, wrote to MPs confirming the government would fund abortions for Northern Irish women in England, and Creasy withdrew her amendment claiming victory.

The Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said her government would set out its own policy to ensure women from Northern Ireland did not have to pay for terminations.

“The first minister has already made clear that the Scottish government would look into the provision of abortion in Scotland to women from Northern Ireland,” a Scottish government spokesman said.

“The Scottish government’s view is that abortion should be part of standard healthcare for all women, and available free from stigma. The Scottish government believes that a woman from Northern Ireland, in Scotland, should be able to access an abortion for free on the same basis as women in Scotland and we will set out shortly how that can be achieved.”

MPs from both sides of the House had expressed concern that the government may have been unwilling make the change given the deal between the Conservatives and the DUP.

Abortion rights for Northern Irish women was not a direct topic of negotiations between No 10 and the DUP, but Paisley made it clear in the Commons on Tuesday that his party would oppose any changes.

“I want to make it absolutely clear that the rights of the unborn child in my view and in the views of people from my party and on this bench trump any political agreement that has been put in place,” he said.

“I am making that abundantly clear. And if anyone takes a view that we would trade that issue of life and the sanctity of life on a political deal, they don’t understand me and they don’t understand my party and they need to be aware of that. And for it to be characterised in that way I think is grossly unfair and to members of my party.”

Paisley said the DUP believed a foetus “is a human being, it feels pain and emotion and is faithfully and wonderfully made... My party will take a stand on that issue irrespective of the political agreements that are reached.”