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Can Northern Irish women access abortion services here for free? The government is finding out

Women in Northern Ireland can access abortion services here, but it will cost them €450, the Dáil was told yesterday.

Anti-abortion protesters wait for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to pass at St Mary's University College, Belfast. June 2018.
Anti-abortion protesters wait for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to pass at St Mary's University College, Belfast. June 2018.
Image: Laura Hutton

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has said that he has tasked the Attorney General with examining the legal implications for allowing women from Northern Ireland to access abortion services in Ireland for free.

It’s currently free to access abortion services in Ireland if you are ordinarily resident in Ireland; those from the North can access an abortion but will have to pay €450 to do so. There is no provision for abortion services in Northern Ireland, except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

In response to a question from Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly, Harris told the Dáil yesterday that although he hoped Northern Ireland would make its own decision in relation to liberalising its abortion laws, he added that: “as long as that remains not to be the case I want to make sure we can offer care.”

Harris said that he agreed with O’Reilly that women from Northern Ireland should be able to access abortions here. He said:

“Such a proposal, however, raises a number of legal and policy issues. I have had some initial discussion with the Attorney General about the matter. 

He has indicated that as a proposition along these lines appears not to have been considered before it would require a fair bit of work.
I therefore intend to undertake such an examination of the issues in conjunction with the Attorney General and other Government colleagues as necessary.

O’Reilly said that for some women, to pay for that bill represents “a prohibitively expensive barrier they cannot get over”.

“I assure him, as I have before, that he will have my party’s support in bringing this about, but for many €450 does not represent access, it represents a barrier.”

Harris said that he would also like extend the 24-7 helpline for women looking for information or advice on abortion services to be extended to the entire island of Ireland.

In 2017 just over 900 women from the North of Ireland travelled for an abortion. 

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