The U.K. government decided on Thursday that Northern Ireland women who travel to mainland Britain for abortions will have their procedures paid for by the National Health Services. The NHS already provides abortion funding for women who live in England, but women in Northern Ireland currently have to pay some £900 (more than $1,100) to terminate their pregnancies privately on the mainland, The Guardian reported, despite being U.K. citizens paying U.K. taxes.
Northern Ireland has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe behind Malta, the only country in the European Union where abortions are banned completely. In Northern Ireland, abortion procedures are banned in almost all cases, including fatal fetal abnormalities, rape, or incest. The procedure can only be performed if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. This could mean death or other "permanent or long-term" effects on the mother's mental or physical health. In all cases, women who have been pregnant for more than nine weeks must travel to England, Scotland, or Wales for safe and legal abortion services. Performing an illegal abortion could send you to jail for life.
On top of out-of-pocket payment for the procedure, women from Northern Ireland crossing the border must also pay for their travel and accommodations. Last year, a women and her friend gained an online following after live-tweeting her trip to mainland Britain for an abortion.
Some women who can't afford the cost of an abortion trip have turned to unsafe methods to induce miscarriage, such as buying drugs online, the BBC reported. Women caught trying to terminate their own pregnancy can face imprisonment.
Although Northern Ireland women making the journey across borders have won access to NHS-funded abortions, reproductive health activists are still fighting for freedom of choice back home. In 2015, a Northern Ireland high court judge ruled that the anti-abortion law breached human rights of women, girls, and rape victims, but legislators have yet to make any concessions. More recently three appeal court judges refused to legalize abortions in hospitals for cases where the women became pregnant from rape or where the the fetus has a fatal abnormality.
Outside of Northern Ireland, abortion in the U.K. has been legal since the passage of the Abortion Act of 1967. Any NHS hospital or licensed clinic can perform the procedure, usually free of charge. Labour Party MP Stella Creasy led the initiative to grant Northern Ireland women the same rights — a position that the U.K. Supreme Court opposed earlier this month.