British govt to fund abortions for Northern Ireland women

The British government said on Thursday it will fund abortions in England for women arriving from Northern Ireland, where the practice is illegal, after the threat of a parliamentary revolt.

Last year 724 women from the province sought terminations from England's state-run National Health Service (NHS), but unlike other Britons were forced to pay for the procedure.

 British govt to fund abortions for Northern Ireland women

File image of Theresa May. Reuters

The Supreme Court earlier this month upheld the state's right to charge the women, a policy which London has defended by pointing to opposition to abortion in Northern Ireland's Belfast assembly.

But Finance Minister Philip Hammond announced this would now change, telling parliament that the government "intends to intervene to fund abortions in England for women arriving here from Northern Ireland".

The shift came just hours before MPs were due to debate an opposition Labour amendment to the Queen's Speech — the government's legislative agenda — demanding it scrap the abortion charges.

Downing Street said several ministers had expressed concern about the policy, but the climbdown was widely viewed as a move to fend off a potential revolt by members of the ruling Conservative party.

Any defeat on the Queen's Speech would further damage Prime Minister Theresa May, who lost her parliamentary majority in a snap election on 8 June but is trying to stay in power as head of a minority government.

"I know this is a matter of great importance to members on both sides of this House," Hammond told parliament.

He said the change would be outlined in a letter to MPs, adding he hoped lawmakers would find the new policy "a sensible way of dealing with this challenge".

Updated Date: Jun 29, 2017 22:20:33 IST