THE British Government has announced that Northern Irish women on low incomes seeking free NHS abortions in England will receive state support to cover travel expenses.
Women who meet specific “financial hardship” criteria will be eligible for the scheme, women and equalities minister Justine Greening said.
Ms Greening announced in June that the NHS in England would begin providing free abortions to women travelling from the North – where terminations are prohibited in almost all circumstances.
Northern Ireland has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, resulting in thousands of women crossing the Irish Sea to access terminations each year.
Minister Greening said abortions had been offered free of charge since her June announcement.
In a written statement to the House of Commons, she said women from NI seeking medical care in England will be eligible for:
- A consultation with an abortion provider in England, including an assessment of whether the legal grounds for an abortion are met;
- The abortion procedure;
- HIV or sexually transmitted infection testing as appropriate;
- An offer of contraception from the abortion provider;
- Support with travel costs if the woman meets financial hardship criteria.
Ms Greening also revealed plans to give Northern Irish women access to a centralised telephone number to book appointments in England.
"This is comparable with the service that women in England receive," she said.
Despite her proposals, the minister emphasised that the British Government was not seeking to change the law in NI.
"My original statement was clear this does not change the position in relation to the provision of abortions in Northern Ireland, which is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly," she added.
"That remains the case. Our proposals do not include the provision of any services in Northern Ireland."