Welsh and Scottish leaders have confirmed that their governments will now offer free abortions to women in Northern Ireland.
Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, told the Welsh Assembly on July 4 that the Labour administration would match the government’s promise to fund abortions for women traveling from Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, making it very difficult for women to have a safe, legal abortion there. However, abortion is legal there when carrying a pregnancy threatens the parent's life. According to The Guardian, women who previously traveled to England, Scotland or Wales paid about £900 (currently the equivalent of $1,166) to have an abortion on the National Health Service, the world’s largest publicly funded health service – despite being United Kingdom taxpayers. Mara Clarke, director of the Abortion Support Network, which offers financial assistance to women in need of abortions, tweeted that an abortion procedure in England costs between £330 and £1350 (currently the equivalent of $427 - $1,749).
“Let us send a message to women everywhere that in this parliament their voices will be heard and their rights upheld,” Labour Member of Parliament Stella Creasy said, according to The Guardian reports.
Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities Justine Greening subtly suggested she had subjective sympathy with the matter in a letter to the Members of Parliament on June 29, outlining the new funding for abortion provision.
“I share the concerns of many colleagues about the experience of women from Northern Ireland obtaining an abortion through the NHS in England,” she wrote. “At present, women from Northern Ireland are asked for payment, and from now on it is our proposal that this will no longer happen. This is clearly a sensitive issue and one which has direct implications for equality in treatment of women from Northern Ireland.”
Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, said her government would also develop its own policy to ensure Northern Irish women did not have to pay for abortions.
“The Scottish government’s view is that abortion should be part of standard healthcare for all women, and available free from stigma,” a Scottish government spokesperson said. “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.”
Campaigners in Northern Ireland are pleased with this latest announcement, but said poorer women would still be at a disadvantage because they would not be able to afford the traveling costs.
“This is an incredible step forward. Anyone travelling for an abortion will save a minimum of £330, thanks to today’s announcement,” Mara Clarke said. “However, they will still have to pay for flights and accommodation, childcare and time off work.”
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) - a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services, including pregnancy counseling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the U.K. - said it would “remove all consultation and treatment fees” for Northern Irish women in a press release on July 3.
“We hope our decision will provide clarity for women and what can be an extremely anxious time. Women who have been treated by bpas since Friday [June 30] will have their fees refunded,” the press release stated. “bpas looks forward to working with the government to put the new funding scheme in place as soon as possible.”
Top photo credit: Ardfern, Wikimedia Commons
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Erin DeGregorio is a student pursuing an M.A. Degree in Journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism (New York, New York). She has a focus in arts and culture reporting and will be graduating in December 2017. Her portfolio of select clips can be viewed here.