Since June 2017, women from Northern Ireland have been able to access abortion services in England free of charge. We have also introduced a central booking system to simplify the process and there is support for travel costs where appropriate. The numbers of women from Northern Ireland accessing abortion services in England and Wales has increased as a result: up 25%, to 919 in 2017, which is the highest level since 2011.
Recently, the Government announced that they will echo Scotland in giving women the right to take early medical abortion pills at home. In Scotland, however, there is a residency test for this healthcare, which, if copied in England, will deny the 28 women a week who are now coming from Northern Ireland for an abortion in the UK, that choice of procedure. Will the Minister pledge to work with the Department of Health and Social Care to prevent that happening, or will she now listen to the Supreme Court, which said that this was a human rights abuse in the first place? Let us get on and give our Northern Irish sisters the right to access healthcare and abortion at home, just as our sisters around the rest of the UK have.
Department of Health and Social Care Ministers only have the power to approve English homes as a class of place for medical abortion. The definition of what “home” means in this context is not straightforward and will be determined as we take this work forward. DHSC officials are working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to develop a protocol that will set out criteria for which places should be covered by the term “home”, as well as contradictions for use at home and other relevant issues. We will look at how the schemes are working in Scotland and Wales and learn from their experience. The hon. Lady knows, on the wider point of abortion, that we call upon representatives in Northern Ireland to get their act together and get the Assembly working again, so that Northern Irish people can make their decision on this very important topic.