Earlier this year, reproductive rights advocates celebrated a major victory when the Republic of Ireland repealed a constitutional amendment banning abortion. But while Ireland embraced reproductive rights, abortion has remained largely illegal in the autonomous region of Northern Ireland. Meaning, women living in Northern Ireland who wish to obtain an abortion must travel outside of the province, often incurring costly expenses. But other parts of the United Kingdom are now stepping up to help those in Northern Ireland better access reproductive rights. Wales will offer free abortions to Northern Ireland residents, the country's health secretary announced Friday.
"Our view has always been [that] a woman from Northern Ireland, in Wales, should be able to access termination of pregnancy on the same basis as women in Wales," the BBC reported Welsh Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said in a statement released Friday.
Under the new policy, Northern Ireland residents will be able to access free abortions through the Welsh National Health Service (NHS), a government-run, publicly-funded healthcare system. In announcing the news Friday, the Welsh Government noted that abortion "can only be carried out in an NHS hospital or a licensed clinic." But Welsh government officials also said they don't expect the new policy to overburden NHS resources.
"We anticipate the number of women from Northern Ireland accessing these services to be low and health boards have assured us they are able to absorb this provision within existing resources," Gething said in the statement.
According to Gething, Welsh health officials will review the policy position in six months time.
Friday's announcement is good news for those in Northern Ireland seeking to terminate a pregnancy safely and legally as, while they may still have to cover the cost of travel, access to free abortion services decreases the overall financial burden. But Wales isn't the only area in the United Kingdom to offer no-cost abortion services to those in Northern Ireland.
In June 2017, England moved to grant those from Northern Ireland access to free abortion services provided by NHS. Justine Greening, England's secretary of state for education and minister for women and equalities, later announced that those from Northern Ireland who seek abortion services in England would also be eligible for contraception, and HIV or STI testing when appropriate. What's more, those who met specific financial hardship criteria would be eligible for help covering the travel costs, Greening said.
Later that same year, Scotland also announced that it would offer no-cost abortion services to those normally residing in Northern Ireland.
Abortion is currently illegal in Northern Ireland except in situations where the woman's life, or physical or mental health is at serious risk. But the successful repeal of a constitutional abortion ban earlier this year in the Republic of Ireland has energized reproductive rights campaigns like Alliance For Choice, which are aimed at legalizing abortion in Northern Ireland. According to CNN, an Amnesty International poll recently found that 65 percent of people residing in Northern Ireland felt that abortion should not be considered a crime.