Northern Irish women will have abortions carried out in England on the NHS funded by the UK government, ministers have confirmed in the face of a major Tory backbench rebellion.
MPs were due to vote this evening on an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy, to improve abortion access.
Abortion rights in Northern Ireland are severely restricted.
As a result many Northern Irish women travel to England to have abortions on the NHS - but currently have to pay.
The government has been under pressure over abortion rights after it struck a deal with the socially conservative DUP.
Creasy’s amendment called on the government to ensure that “all UK citizens including those from Northern Ireland may access medical services including abortion procedures in England if they so wish without charge”.
She told HuffPost UK earlier today that up to 40 Tory rebels were prepared to vote in favour of her amendment raising the prospect of Theresa May’s first Commons defeat since she became prime minister.
The announcement that the current policy would be changed was first made by Philip Hammond in the Commons.
In a letter to MPs, equalities minister Justine Greening confirmed the move.
“At present women from Northern Ireland are asked fora payment and from now on it is our proposal that this will no longer happen. This is clearly a sensitive issue and one which has direct implications for equality and treatment of women from Northern Ireland,” she said.
As spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service charity said: “We are absolutely delighted that the government has committed to funding abortion care for women who travel from Northern Ireland to England.
“This is a landmark moment: for years the women of Northern Ireland, despite being UK citizens and taxpayers, have not been entitled to NHS-funded treatment.
“Clearly this is not the solution to the gross injustice whereby women in Northern Ireland are denied access to abortion care at home, and we look forward to seeing progress on that front. Nevertheless this is an important moment, and we commend all those who have worked so hard to make this happen.”
May’s minority government is facing a symbolic hurdle with the final vote on her legislative programme on Thursday afternoon.
But the support the Conservative Party has secured from the DUP’s 10 MPs following a £1bn deal described by critics as a “bung” mean it should clear the Commons.