A LANDMARK decision was taken yesterday to allow women travelling from Northern Ireland to have free abortions as the government scrambled to deal with Labour challenges to the Queen’s Speech.
Labour MP Stella Creasy had previously tabled an amendment to let Northern Irish women have free abortions via the NHS in England, as they are barred in Northern Ireland except where the mother’s life or mental health is in danger.
And in the face of overwhelming pressure the government fudged a solution by “refusing” free NHS abortions — but paying for them using government equalities office funding instead.
Chancellor Philip Hammond’s announcement offers a face-saving sop to the 10 MPs of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which the government relies on to maintain its majority.
The Northern Irish party, which has a hardline antiabortion stance, would have been placed in an awkward position during the final Commons vote on the government’s legislative programme if the amendment had stood.
Following Mr Hammond’s announcement Ms Creasy withdrew her proposal and tweeted: “Sisters in Northern Ireland we will hear your voices — have asked for speedy meeting with govt to make this a reality!
“Thank you to MPs on all sides who supported call for change to help Northern Irish women have equal access to abortion.”
A British Pregnancy Advisory Service spokeswoman said: “We are absolutely delighted that the government has committed to funding abortion care for women who travel from Northern Ireland to England.
“This is a landmark moment: for years the women of Northern Ireland, despite being UK citizens and taxpayers, have not been entitled to NHS-funded treatment.
“Clearly this is not the solution to the gross injustice whereby women in Northern Ireland are denied access to abortion care at home, and we look forward to seeing progress on that front.
“Nevertheless this is an important moment, and we commend all those who have worked so hard to make this happen.”