First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones has confirmed in the Welsh Assembly that Wales will join England and Scotland in funding abortion care for women traveling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. Jones indicated that the three nations would now work together to agree how this support will be provided, from travel, and accommodation, to aftercare and support from the NHS in England, Scotland, and Wales.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:
‘We are delighted with this move to end the injustice of charging women in Northern Ireland for a medical procedure freely available to women in the rest of the UK. It has come too late for many women, but it is the right decision nonetheless. We trust the process of agreeing what support will be provided will be handled swiftly, so no other women within the UK face additional trauma.
‘It is essential now that the Government moves to defend the rights of women more broadly, decriminalising abortion throughout the UK and legislating to bring the reproductive rights of women in Northern Ireland in line with those of women in England, Wales, and Scotland.’
In an earlier statement following the UK Parliament’s decision to fund Northern Ireland women’s abortions in England, the Scottish Government said:
‘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. 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.’
The law governing abortion in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive in Europe, such that abortion is unlawful in all but the most extreme cases. The law does not, however, prohibit women resident in Northern Ireland from travelling to Britain to access abortion services, but until now they have had to pay up to £2,000 to access those services.
Last month the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the legality of the UK Government’s failure to provide free abortions Northern Irish women. Humanists UK intervened in the case, focusing its submissions on the impact of the policy on women who do not wish to continue with a pregnancy and who are faced with the limited options of obtaining an unlawful and/or unsafe abortion in Northern Ireland. The submissions argued that forcing women to continue carrying their foetus to full-term or sustaining the unanticipated expense of a paid abortion outside of Northern Ireland would cause an unacceptable level of stress and trauma involved.
In response to the Supreme Court’s disappointing ruling, Humanists UK launched a petition calling upon anyone concerned by the unequal treatment of Northern Irish women to sign its petition urging Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, and Carwyn Jones to grant Northern Irish free access to abortion services on the NHS in England, Scotland, and Wales respectively, and wrote to all three leaders. It actively lobbied MPs in the Wesminster Parliament ahead of the important Queen’s Speech vote on abortion care in England, and through its Welsh section, Wales Humanists, did the same in the Wales Assembly ahead of today’s announcement.
For more comment or information please contact Humanists UK on 0207 324 3078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Humanists UK urges British leaders to allow free NHS abortions for Northern Ireland women’: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/06/14/humanists-uk-urges-mainland-british-leaders-to-allow-free-nhs-abortions-for-northern-ireland-women/
Read more about the case including the judgment on the Supreme Court’s website: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2015-0220.html
Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns on women’s reproductive rights: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/
At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.
Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/