On 29 June I informed the House that women normally resident in Northern Ireland would no longer be charged for abortions received in England. Since the date of the announcement, the three main providers of abortions in England have not been charging residents of Northern Ireland. I am grateful to them and we will be reimbursing them for these services. We have now developed our ongoing plans for delivering this commitment, and I am pleased to update you on the arrangements.
We intend that women from Northern Ireland will access the service through existing providers of abortions in England, in the same way that women in England do. We have invited providers of abortions in England to apply for funding to extend their service provision to women from Northern Ireland. The funding will be accessed via a grant scheme that will be administered by the Department of Health. The cost of this service will be met by the Government Equalities Office with additional funding provided by HM Treasury. A small number of procedures will continue to be provided through the NHS where this is necessary for medical reasons. NHS providers will also be reimbursed by the Department of Health.
Women from Northern Ireland seeking medical support in England will be eligible for:
A consultation with an abortion provider in England, including an assessment of whether the legal grounds for an abortion are met;
the abortion procedure;
HIV or sexually transmitted infection testing as appropriate;
an offer of contraception from the abortion provider; and
Support with travel costs if the woman meets financial hardship criteria.
This is comparable with the service that women in England receive. We are establishing a central booking service that will be run by one of the providers who will be selected as part of the grant award process.
The central booking service will simplify the process for women who choose to access these services. It means that women from Northern Ireland will have a single telephone number to call and an appointment will be made with the most appropriate provider, based on the woman’s requirements, her medical condition and the availability of the providers. The central booking service will be operational before the end of the year. In the meantime women from Northern Ireland will continue to make their own arrangements with the providers, but will not be charged.
My original statement was clear this does not change the position in relation to the provision of abortions in Northern Ireland, which is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That remains the case. Our proposals do not include the provision of any services in Northern Ireland.