Wales joins in free abortion pledge for NI women

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones made the commitment in their devolved parliament on Tuesday
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones made the commitment in their devolved parliament on Tuesday

The Welsh government has declared that it intends to extend free abortions to Northern Irish women, less than a week after the Westminster government announced that it would be doing so.

The news emerged in an answer provided by Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones in the country’s devolved parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

Outrage had been voiced by a succession of anti-abortion groups in Northern Ireland last Thursday as the government agreed to fund terminations for women who travel to England for abortions.

It did this because a Labour MP was trying to insert the measure on to the Queen’s Speech – something which required a vote.

This would have embarrassed the government, which had only just sealed its pact with the anti-abortion DUP to give it a slim Commons majority – so instead Theresa May just agreed to the proposal without putting it to a vote.

However, it appeared that these free abortions would only apply in England.

Mr Jones, leader of Labour in Wales, had been asked whether Wales intended to follow suit on Tuesday.

He responded: “The answer to the question is yes. That’s what we want to do.

“We’re looking at the detail of how that can be done... what we’re looking to do is to make sure that Wales, England and Scotland offer the same service.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had indicated back in November that she intends to allow free abortions for Northern Irish women who travel to Scotland.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said that whilst the NHS funds free abortions for women in England, Scotland and Wales, about two-thirds of the actual procedures are carried out on contract to the NHS by groups like BPAS or Marie Stopes.

Women from Northern Ireland have for years been able to travel to England, Scotland or Wales to obtain abortions.

However, the UK government had said they “must make their own private arrangements”, and had to fund the procedures themselves.

BPAS said that the cost of an abortion can range from a few hundred pounds for the early stages of a pregnancy to perhaps £1,400 for a surgical procedure (although its spokeswoman added that they do not turn women away because they are unable to pay).

Abortion campaigner Emma Campbell told the News Letter last week that women can sometimes pay up to £2,000 for an abortion in England, added to which are the cost of travel and transport.

In England, Scotland and Wales, abortions are carried out under the 1967 Abortion Act, which means that a woman must have the consent of two doctors to get a termination and it must be done on licenced premises – otherwise they risk falling foul of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which can carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

BPAS said abortions can be carried out up to 24 weeks in England, Scotland and Wales under the 1967 act (although this can be longer in cases where a woman’s life it at risk).

All over Great Britain, as in Northern Ireland, obtaining abortion pills via the internet or other means in order to carry out a home abortion is illegal.

However, women in Northern Ireland have repeatedly challenged this law by gathering outside police stations and announcing that they have obtained abortion pills without prompting any response from the PSNI.

Despite the stiff penalty which exists on the statute books, a woman who aborted her 10-to-12-week-old foetus at home using pills and then threw the bloody corpse into her bin – where her housemates found it – received a three-month prison sentence, suspended for one year, when she pleaded guilty to two charges connected with the crime in April 2016 at Belfast Crown Court.

Her name was withheld by the court.