BPAS withdraws abortion fees for Northern Irish women
Northern Irish women who travel to England, Scotland or Wales to have abortions will no longer have to pay consultation and treatment fees to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
BPAS announced on Monday that it had decided also to refund women from the region who used their services last Friday, after the threat of a parliamentary defeat over the Queen’s speech last week forced the government to scrap its policy of not funding abortions on the NHS for Northern Irish women in other parts of Britain.
The service said that it had acted “in response to the government’s commitment last Thursday to provide abortion care funding for these women. As the details of the new government scheme have yet to be put forward, BPAS is concerned that women may delay treatment as they wait for the commitment to be actioned.”
It continued: “While abortion is a very safe procedure, the earlier it can be performed the better for women’s mental and physical health. We hope our decision will provide clarity for women at what can be an extremely anxious time. Women who have been treated by BPAS since Friday will have their fees refunded. BPAS looks forward to working with the government to put the new funding scheme in place as soon as possible.”
Up until last Thursday’s government U-turn, women were being charged about £900 for a termination if they travelled across the Irish Sea to have the procedure in a private clinic.
The government changed tack after facing a backbench rebellion, with Conservative MPs threatening to vote in favour of Labour MP Stella Creasy’s motion allowing Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions. The government avoided defeat after accepting her proposal for free NHS abortion access and Creasy withdrew her amendment to the Queen’s speech.
Pro-choice campaigners in Northern Ireland have welcomed both the shift in NHS policy and the news today that BPAS is no longer charging women from the region for services and the cost of procedures.
Alliance For Choice’s Goretti Horgan praised BPAS and described its move of waiving charges for women from Northern Ireland while the government puts the funding scheme in place as “generous and demonstrates a woman-centred approach sadly lacking from either Stormont or Westminster”.
Horgan said: “The move is important in taking the pressure off those in Northern Ireland who are currently faced with an intolerable pregnancy. It means Westminster can ensure that the scheme it produces looks after the minority of women whose medical issues mean they need access to hospital care.”
She pointed out that Alliance For Choice first raised the idea of women from Northern Ireland being granted free NHS access to abortion services 20 years ago. Horgan however said that back in 1997 – and even today – Alliance For Choice saw this move as a “stopgap” measure while people waited for local politicians to bring abortion reform to the region.
“We must ensure that it is not seen as a long-term solution – pregnant women should not be forced to travel for health care. We should look after them here, at home, in their local hospitals and medical centres,” Horgan said.
Abortion is illegal in almost all circumstances in Northern Ireland except when there is a direct threat to the life of the mother if the pregnancy continues.
Last year the Northern Ireland Assembly voted by a margin of 59 to 40 votes against allowing for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.