It was hard-fought for by Northern Irish pro-choice activists

I was surprised to learn a couple years ago that the United Kingdom’s supposedly National Health Service could be overridden by a local ordinance. Northern Irish residents, despite being British citizens, were being denied NHS coverage for abortions that the NHS provided to any other British citizen, simply because Northern Ireland as a region is still living in the bronze age when it comes to reproductive freedom laws.

I am pleased to see this will no longer be the case.  The Guardian reports on all the complexities:

The government has announced a major concession to give Northern Irish women access to terminations on the NHS in Great Britain, in an attempt to head off a damaging Tory rebellion at a vote on the Queen’s speech.

(Par for the course, Conservatives need to have a political knife at their throats to advance on human rights law.)

Dozens of Conservative MPs were understood to have expressed to Tory whips their support for an amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in Great Britain. It was due to be voted on this afternoon.

And Philip Hammond told the Commons that the government would fund abortions in England for women from Northern Ireland.

Women from Northern Ireland are currently charged about £900 for a termination if they travel to have the procedure in mainland Britain, a policy upheld by a supreme court case earlier this month. Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe and it is almost impossible for a women to have an abortion legally there.

In a letter to MPs outlining the new funding, the education secretary and equalities minister, Justine Greening, hinted she had personal sympathy with the issue. She wrote: “As minister for women and equalities, I share the concerns of many colleagues about the experience of women from Northern Ireland obtaining an abortion through the NHS in England.”

She added: “At present women from Northern Ireland are asked for payment and from now on it is our proposal that this will no longer happen. This is clearly a sensitive issue and one which has direct implications for equality in treatment of women from Northern Ireland.”

Greening said that the Equalities Office would fund the payments for the terminations with additional funding for health services. “This will mean no English health service user is disadvantaged as a result of this change,” she wrote. “Funding for the services will be made available through the government Equalities Office, allowing the Department of Health to commission services in England for those from Northern Ireland.

Regardless of the circumstances, I am happy for Northern Irish residents. However, the coverage will not include travel costs, as I understand the Northern Irish government will still refuse to supply the service. This means the prior problem of poor women being unable to access appropriate care remains.

The Guardian also reported on its live coverage of the government’s concession a fracture in the Tories–seven of them defecting to stand with Labour & co. on the issue of reproductive freedom. This is a serious development considering the last election delivered no majority parties. The Tories have been trying to set for a “confidence & supply” arrangement with the Democratic Unionists, a far-right fundamentalist party, but even those negotiations seem to be deteriorating.

If we’re lucky, this is a sign that Labour might be able to punch above its weight again in the future.



  1. jazzlet says

    The Abortion Support Network help provide funds for women needing abortions on the mainland, including travel costs. (hope it’s ok to mention them, sorry if it isn’t)
    What I haven’t seen is anything about the position of women who want abortions and come from from the Isle of Man, where the system of Government is even more bizzare than that in Northern Ireland.

  2. blf says

    Teh nasties and DUP signed a “confidence and supply” agreement a week ago (26 June). No-cost NHS abortions (you are correct, travel is not covered) were not part of the deal, but the nasties were, as you observed, forced to deal with the problem to prevent defections from their own band of crooks thieves & liars. Teh DUP’s Dr “No” Jr has since thrown a wobbly about that.

    The (current) negotiations which are going nowhere — and have now been suspended until September-ish — are between Sinn Féin and the DUP to restart Stormont (teh N.Irish “government”) for the umpteenth time. This time it was Sinn Féin who walked out, over a DUP scandal; this time, those two groups of not-toilet-trained toddlers are arguing over support for the Irish Gaelic language. In the interim, N.Ireland has a technocratic government of bureaucrats.

  3. says

    One of the great crimes of nationalism is the idea that, because someone was born within the borders of a state, the state’s laws should apply to them. This is a good example: clearly not all Irish women agree with the state’s policy. So why does the state get to always win? Of course, “go somewhere else” is the usual response, but since there are no non-state alternatives, that’s just a monopolist’s argument. The “consent of the governed” is being withheld yet the government is still pushing ‘its’ people around based on the decisions of religious elites.

  4. Siobhan says


    Thanks for the tip.


    Thanks for the correction.


    Meng you already converted me months ago.

  5. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I wish more newspapers would present perfectly true headlines (and related article synopses) that present the plain choices legislators make.

    Parliamentarians Some Women Should Die to Export Ireland’s Abortions
    By A. Writer
    5 July, 2017, Belfast – Northern Ireland’s DUP, Sinn Fein, Alliance, & Ulster Unionist Assembly members prefer X more women die each year, Y pounds are taken from the pockets of women who seek abortions through travel and other extra costs, and Z women fail to access a desired abortion so that A fewer abortions occur in the territory, even though the actual number of abortions prevented is the lesser number B.

    I imagine that the number that die is fairly low. You can see the most recent UK report on maternal deaths here. However, I saw no breakdown of maternal deaths in Northern Ireland or of women who live full or part time in Northern Ireland (as opposed to the rest of the UK). Deaths were approximately 10 per 100k live births, and other sources put annual births at around 780k. The population of N. Ireland is only 1.8 million, compared to a total UK pop of 65 million. If pregnancy and birth rates are the same in N. Ireland as elsewhere in the UK, that means about 20k live births there, and thus about 2 maternal deaths per annum.

    Because of culture, it may be that the pregnancy rates are slightly higher. Because of law and policy, it may be that death rates are a bit higher. But even if maternal death rates were comparable to the United states (more than double the rate of the UK, see here), that would mean a typical year would still only have 4 deaths, though totals would be slightly above that on average when considering the mean over multiple years. Add in a slightly higher birth rate – not even that much higher – and a typical year would see 5 maternal deaths instead of 4. At worst, Northern Ireland might be on par with Texas, and see about 7 deaths in a typical year.

    Of those, all but 1 would be preventable if we use Scandinavian maternal death rates as our standard. That means 3-6 preventable deaths of pregnant Northern Irelanders per year.

    I’m not saying that in some cases you can’t make the case to delay/oppose implementation of a policy that will save 3-6 lives a year. But this isn’t a poor country putting all the resources it has into revamping its clean water systems to prevent 50k deaths per year that believes lives saved per dollar make the case to continue putting off OB/GYN training, new clinics, whatever.

    I just want to see the Parliamentarians actually have to make the case: This many deaths, this much money taken from women’s pockets, this much other suffering =< this many abortions exported to Britain, Scotland, & Wales and this many abortions prevented altogether.

    There's so much newspapers could do to make policy trade-offs visible. Where the facts that come out favor policies that I favor, so much the better. Where the facts support a different policy, I'll appreciate having the facts that make it possible to rethink my position. Where it's not about facts, but about religious feelings or ideologies, even that benefits the public when visible (whether it helps my case or hurts it on an individual issue).

    But, of course, reality has a liberal bias, so if newspapers put the stark facts in the headlines, conservatives would scream about how they were being mistreated by the press.
    Special note: You want another reason to hate Texas? Read the Guardian’s report on US Maternal Mortality.

  6. Siobhan says

    @Crip Dyke

    I just want to see the Parliamentarians actually have to make the case: This many deaths, this much money taken from women’s pockets, this much other suffering =< this many abortions exported to Britain, Scotland, & Wales and this many abortions prevented altogether.

    So do I, but then you’d have to penalize the baffelgab they pull instead.

  7. jazzlet says

    @Crip Dyke even when they try as the Guardian does on some topics they let themselves and us down by getting caught up with rules of writing that say you shouldn’t use the same word too often, or even more than once, in a sentence/paragraph so they end up giving you several figures for eg maternal mortality expressed in different ways so you can’t acually compare them for yourself. Give me the figures, use the same form for figures from different countires, don’t tell me it’s 20,000 in one country and 3 in 100,000 in another. Grump.