Responding to the Government’s announcement today that it will now move to fund abortions on the NHS in England for women from Northern Ireland, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:
‘We are delighted that the Government has finally moved to end the injustice of charging women in Northern Ireland for a medical procedure freely available to women in the rest of the UK. It has come too late for many women, and it should not have taken the prompting of the Supreme Court or the threat of defeat in Parliament – but it is the right decision nonetheless.
‘What has not ended, however, is the injustice of forcing women in Northern Ireland to travel hundreds of miles in the first place simply to access the healthcare they are entitled to. There is, for the time being, no government in Northern Ireland, and in any case it is the Westminster Government that holds ultimate responsibility for safeguarding the human rights of UK citizens. It is essential, therefore, that the Government now moves to defend the rights of women more broadly, decriminalising abortion throughout the UK and legislating to bring the reproductive rights of women in Northern Ireland in line with those of women in England, Wales, and Scotland.’
The Government’s decision came in reaction to an amendment to the Queen’s Speech tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy, and signed by a cross-party group of MPs, calling for abortions for Northern Irish women to be funded on NHS England.
The law governing abortion in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive in Europe, such that abortion is unlawful in all but the most extreme cases. The law does not, however, prohibit women resident in Northern Ireland from travelling to Britain to access abortion services, but they must pay up to £2,000 to access those services.
Earlier this month the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the legality of the UK Government’s failure to provide free abortions Northern Irish women. Humanists UK intervened in the case, focusing its submissions on the impact of the policy on women who do not wish to continue with a pregnancy and who are faced with the limited options of obtaining an unlawful and/or unsafe abortion in Northern Ireland. The submissions argued that forcing women to continue carrying their foetus to full-term or sustaining the unanticipated expense of a paid abortion outside of Northern Ireland would cause an unacceptable level of stress and trauma involved.
In response to the Supreme Court’s disappointing ruling, Humanists UK launched a petition 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. And letters were sent to all three leaders emphasising the urgent need for action.
For more comment or information please contact Humanists UK on 0207 324 3078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the letter from Minister for Women and Equalities Justine Greening MP, announcing the policy: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/access-to-abortion-services-in-england
Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Humanists UK urges British leaders to allow free NHS abortions for Northern Ireland women’: https://humanists.uk/2017/06/14/humanists-uk-urges-mainland-british-leaders-to-allow-free-nhs-abortions-for-northern-ireland-women/
Read more about the case including the judgment on the Supreme Court’s website: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2015-0220.html
Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/
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: https://humanists.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/