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UK government says Northern Irish women can get abortions free on NHS in England

The travel and accommodation costs will be covered for women on low incomes, under a new government scheme.

The UK government's decision was welcomed by the London-Irish abortion rights campaign.
The UK government's decision was welcomed by the London-Irish abortion rights campaign.

THE UK GOVERNMENT has said that it will provide free abortion services in England to women travelling from Northern Ireland.

In the House of Commons today, Equalities Minister Justine Greening said that procedures will be free at the point of delivery on the NHS and that travel and accommodation costs would be covered for women on incomes of less than £15,276.

The scheme is due to be in place by the end of 2017 and Greening also said there would be a central telephone booking system through which an appointment can be arranged with a healthcare professional in England.

Greening said that this will be “comparable to the service that women in England receive”.

She said: “The central booking services will be operational before the end of the year. In the meantime women from Northern Ireland will continue to make their own arrangements with the providers, but will not be charged.”

Northern Ireland has strict laws around abortion. It is only permitted in the country if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is permanent of serious risk to her mental or physical health.

According to the latest figures from the UK government, 724 women from Northern Ireland had abortions in England or Wales in 2016. It also said that 3,265 women from the Republic of Ireland accessed abortion services in England or Wales.

Labour MP Stella Creasy said the new scheme was a “step forward” for women in Northern Ireland.

In June, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal overturned a ruling which found that the country’s abortion laws were in breach of European human rights law.

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In 2015, the High Court ruled that Northern Ireland was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights by its failure to allow for abortion in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality.

This year, however, a three judge panel allowed an appeal to overturn the High Court’s decision.

It ruled that it was not up to the courts or local government to decide on abortion, but rather the national government.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing a case tomorrow, with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission seeking to overturn the restrictions on abortion in the country on the grounds that the laws breach human rights.

Read: Psychiatrist pulls out of Eighth Amendment Committee appearance

Read: As it happened: ‘The Eighth has caused endless problems, you need to legislate’

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Sean Murray

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