Published: Fri, June 30, 2017
Medicine | By Daryl Nelson

MPs to vote on NHS abortions for Northern Irish women

MPs to vote on NHS abortions for Northern Irish women

It comes after a campaign from more that 50 MPs who backed a call for Northern Irish women to have abortions for free in England - they now have to pay.

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland in all cases except where a woman's life is under direct threat from continuing with a pregnancy.

Stella Creasy's call to give Northern Irish women access to terminations on the NHS in mainland Britain was dramatically passed by the government.

The Government has signalled it will attempt to ease concerns over abortion rights for Northern Ireland women, amid mounting pressure from MPs.

Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland Campaign Manager for Amnesty International, said it was "an important step for women's rights and towards ending the ludicrous situation where women and girls in Northern Ireland are denied the right to healthcare that those in the rest of the United Kingdom can take for granted".

The DUP, which opposes the relaxation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland, had said the vote was a funding issue for NHS England and therefore an internal matter for the UK Government.

It is however a huge step forward, particularly coming on the same day when the high court in Belfast rejected an earlier judgment saying Northern Ireland's abortion laws contravened human rights. Instead, they have said, the decision on abortion legislature falls on Stormont, Northern Ireland's government.

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May's government doesn't have enough seats to govern alone, making it dependent on the backing of the DUP, the biggest party in Northern Ireland.

The issue was a hard one for ministers because the Tory minority Government needs the support of the Democratic Unionist Party's 10 MPs to pass the Queen's Speech.

The UK government is obliged to protect the right of women and girls throughout all of the UK to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy.

Critics of the deal have wondered whether it will leave the women of Northern Ireland without the chance of overturning existing legislation surrounding abortion given May's tenuous hold on power.

Ms Leadsom replied: "This is an incredibly sensitive and important issue, and to be very clear it's my personal view that every woman should have the right to decide what happens to her own body". The offer of funding for a free abortion in another country is short-sighted as it neglects any mention of an offer of counselling or care for the woman.

In a sign of its importance, May left a meeting of European leaders in Berlin to get back in time for the vote while Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond offered a concession - to fund the abortions - to try and have the divisive amendment withdrawn.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, led the campaign for an amendment to the law, ahead of a debate on the Queen's speech, which was initially set to go to a vote at 5pm today.

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