North­ern Ir­ish women win abor­tion fight

The Guardian Weekly - - Uk news - Jessica El­got Henry McDon­ald

A decades-long strug­gle to give North­ern Ire­land women ac­cess to ter­mi­na­tions on the NHS in main­land Bri­tain was un­ex­pect­edly won in the space of 24 hours last Thurs­day, as the UK gov­ern­ment dra­mat­i­cally changed its pol­icy in an at­tempt to head off a dam­ag­ing Tory re­bel­lion on the Queen’s speech.

Dozens of Con­ser­va­tive MPs were un­der­stood to have ex­pressed to Tory whips their sup­port for an amend­ment by Labour MP Stella Creasy to al­low North­ern Ir­ish women ac­cess to NHS-funded abor­tions.

Women from North­ern Ire­land are cur­rently charged about £900 ($1,160) for a ter­mi­na­tion if they travel to main­land Bri­tain, a pol­icy up­held by a supreme court case last month. North­ern Ire­land has some of Europe’s most re­stric­tive abor­tion laws and it is al­most im­pos­si­ble for a woman to have a safe, le­gal abor­tion there.

Ahead of last week’s Queen’s speech vote, the busi­ness sec­re­tary, Greg Clark, said the gov­ern­ment had lis­tened to the con­cerns, prais­ing Creasy. “She has brought to the House an in­jus­tice – and we will put that in­jus­tice right.”

In the end, Creasy with­drew her amend­ment, claim­ing vic­tory. “I’m de­lighted at to­day’s an­nounce­ment and sat­is­fied by the com­mit­ments given,” Creasy said, as ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary and equal­i­ties min­is­ter Jus­tine Green­ing looked on, smil­ing. “Let us send a mes­sage to women ev­ery­where that in this par­lia­ment their voices will be heard and their rights up­held.”

The De­part­ment of Health had pre­vi­ously de­fended its pol­icy not to fund abor­tions for North­ern Ir­ish women in Eng­land, ar­gu­ing in court that to do so would un­der­mine the North­ern Ire­land assem­bly. How­ever, the mood sud­denly shifted in Westminster when the case and Creasy’s amend­ment caught MPs’ at­ten­tion. The re­sult was a full ca­pit­u­la­tion from the gov­ern­ment.

In a letter to MPs out­lin­ing the new fund­ing for abor­tion pro­vi­sion, Green­ing hinted at per­sonal sym­pa­thy with the is­sue. 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.”

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