U-turn as government agrees to pay for abortions for Northern Irish women in England
Women from Northern Ireland will be able to have free abortions in England on the NHS following a major government climbdown.
Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the U-turn during a Commons debate in the Queen's Speech.
The move was designed to head off a Tory rebellion over an amendment to the Queen's Speech tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy. Ministers had been facing an embarrassing defeat when the vote was due to take place this evening.
Ms Creasy's amendment had called on the Government to allow Northern Irish women to “access medical services including abortion procedures in England if they so wish without charge”.
Because abortions are still illegal in Northern Ireland except in very limited circumstances, women are forced to travel to England for the procedure, but currently have to meet the £900 cost themselves.
Mr Hammond said: “I know this is a matter of great importance to members on both sides of the House and an issue which I know my colleagues on the Treasury bench have been looking for a solution to.
“My understanding is that my Right Honourable Friend the minister for women and equalities (Justine Greening) either has or is about to make an announcement by way of a letter to members of this House explaining that she intends to intervene to fund abortions in England for women arriving here from Northern Ireland and I hope the House will find that a sensible way of dealing with this challenge.”
In her letter, which was published shortly after Mr Hammond's announcement, Ms Greening said she “shared the concern” of other MPs about the issue.
She said: “At present women from Northern Ireland are asked for payment, and from now on it is our proposal that this should no longer happen.”
Ms Creasy, the MP for Walthamstow, welcomed the announcement.