The Department for Health and Social Care has announced that abortion service provision in England for Northern Ireland women is now operational. This means that Northern Ireland women will no longer be charged up to £2,000 to access these services on the NHS in England, and will be able to use a central booking service, operated by BPAS, to access them. Humanists UK has hailed the implementation of this scheme, which was announced in 2017, as one of the most significant steps undertaken by the UK Government for the realisation of women’s rights in Northern Ireland in the last 50 years.
Women in Northern Ireland seeking medical support in England will now have free access to consultations with an abortion provider, the abortion procedure, sexual health testing, contraceptive advice, and – if the woman meets the criteria for financial hardship – support with travel costs. Similar schemes are to be implemented in Scotland and Wales.
The Government announced this change in the wake of political pressure following a Supreme Court ruling in 2017, which found that the decision to remove charges was a political one, ultimately residing with the Secretary of State for Health. The judgment was split over whether such charges were lawful, with two of the five judges concluding they could not be justified on the grounds that they constituted discriminatory treatment. Humanists UK intervened in the case.
Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive laws governing abortion in Europe. The 1967 Abortion Act, which applies in Britain, was never extended to Northern Ireland, where abortion in all bar the most extreme cases remains a criminal offense carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Abortion is not permitted in cases where the pregnancy has resulted from a sexual crime – such as rape or incest – or if there has been a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.
Last week, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) published a damning report which found that Northern Ireland’s near-total prohibition on abortion gravely and systemically violates women’s rights.
Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are delighted that the Government has pressed ahead with its commitment not only to abolish the outrageous charges previously imposed on Northern Ireland women seeking an abortion in England, the only medical procedure for which the NHS imposed such restrictions, but has also gone some way to remove the other financial and practical barriers faced by these women.
‘Although this is an important step, we still recognise that until such time as there is safe, legal, free, and local access to abortion services in Northern Ireland, women’s rights will not be fully realised in the country. We call upon the Government to implement the recommendations of the recent CEDAW report into abortion in Northern Ireland.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07951 176 245, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on email@example.com or on 07470 395090.
Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/
Read more about the case including the judgment on the Supreme Court’s website: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2015-0220.html
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/
Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.