Humanists UK urges British leaders to allow free NHS abortions for Northern Ireland women

14 June, 2017

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the matter of charging Northern Irish women to access abortion services on NHS England, which are free women living in Britain, is a political decision. Therefore, the UK Government and, specifically, the Secretary of State for Health, has the power to end this unequal and discriminatory charge. Humanists UK, in response to today’s judgment, is calling upon anyone concerned by the unequal treatment of Northern Irish women  to sign its petition urging Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, and Carwyn Jones to grant Northern Irish free access to abortion services on the NHS in England, Scotland, and Wales respectively.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon already promised last year to investigate the possibility of allowing free abortions for Northern Ireland women through NHS Scotland. Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood told Humanists UK she supports the same in Wales.

The laws governing abortion in Northern Ireland are among the most restrictive in Europe. The 1967 Abortion Act which allows safe and legal access to abortion in England, Scotland, and Wales has never been extended to Northern Ireland, where seeking or performing an abortion procedure is a criminal offence punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

These restrictions force an estimated 2,000 women a year to travel to Britain to access abortion services. Despite being UK citizens and able to access every other medical procedure provided by the NHS, Northern Irish women are charged up to £2,000 to have an abortion. In addition to travel and accommodation costs, this charge imposes an undue financial and emotional burden and represents a fundamental breach in their human rights.   

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has not chosen to rule, at this time, that NHS abortion charges are unlawful. However, it has clearly indicated that it is within the power of the UK and devolved governments in Scotland and Wales to redress this injustice. We are asking people of goodwill in every part of the UK to join us in petitioning the Prime Minister and the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales for NHS abortion services to be made available, free of charge, to women who travel from Northern Ireland.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 3675 0959, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on or on 07470 395090.

Read more about the case including the judgment on the Supreme Court’s website:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion:

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: