Updated February 2019
People resident in Northern Ireland can have free abortions in England. This super amazing news was so incredible that we joined with the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Alliance for Choice, Amnesty International UK, the Family Planning Association, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Marie Stopes UK and Stella Creasy MP to issue a joint press release to express our joy. The last piece of the puzzle went live in March 2018, one number (0333 234 2184) that anyone in Northern Ireland can call to book their abortion. Until then, clients will arrange their appointments via individual providers. But what does this mean, practically, for ASN and women who may seek out ASN? We’re glad you asked…
This is amazing news. Does this mean ASN can close?
Yes it is, and alas no. Clients from Northern Ireland have been about 20% of ASN clients for the past three years. The pregnant people of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, and as of 2019 Malta and Gibraltar still need our help! Also, ASN will still be here for the women in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland who fall through any cracks in the government scheme, and will continue to be here until there is free, safe, legal abortion in all the countries we serve.
What will women from Northern Ireland get for free?
A consultation and, if they so choose, an abortion in England. Other services include HIV and sexually transmitted infection testing as appropriate and an offer of contraception where appropriate. Treatment will be free at point of delivery.
What about travel and accommodation costs?
Help with travel costs will be available if financial hardship criteria are met for both the woman requiring treatment, and in certain cases, a parent/guardian or carer.
How will it work?
Once the Central Booking Service is up and running, it will mean women can call one number and have the abortion appointment arranged based on client needs (e.g. location, gestation, availability). The CBS will also be able to book travel and if necessary, accommodation for those with confirmed financial hardship.
How does the government define financial hardship?
While abortions will be free for anyone resident in Northern Ireland, necessary travel and accommodation costs are only available to those who meet financial hardship criteria. This includes women on Income Support, income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee and/or have an income of £15,276 or less. Minors and vulnerable adults will be able to obtain funding to have an adult parent, guardian or support person travel with them.
What about Scotland? Will ASN be helping women go there, too?
While Scotland will be providing free abortions for women resident in Northern Ireland, there is no provision for travel costs for those facing financial hardship. In addition, there is not currently a one day service available to those travelling, which would mean it could take up to a week in Scotland for treatment. If you want to know more about travelling to Scotland, you can see the pathway information here.
Again, England is the easier pathway. However if you someone really wants a termination in Wales, they are welcome to ask the Central Booking System to help them arrange one.
But since Ireland has legal abortion people in Northern Ireland can go to Ireland for abortions, right?
Yes, they can, but it won’t be free, or easy. Abortions in the Republic of Ireland require at least two and possibly visits to healthcare professionals, over a minimum of four days. There is not a clear pathway for people from Northern Ireland, and also the care they receive in Ireland will not be free. It will still be less expensive, and, in most cases, more convenient, for those in Northern Ireland to go to England for a one day service than to the Republic of Ireland for a 4 or more day service. Plus in the Republic of Ireland, abortion patients are given the second set of tablets to take home with them, which, for women from Northern Ireland, would be against the law.
What about people who can’t travel due to caring responsibilities, controlling partners, or other issues?
We’re glad you asked. Because this is why the ONLY answer is free, safe, legal, LOCAL access to abortion for everyone who needs one. When ASN is contacted by people in these extremely difficult circumstances, we give them advice on a case by case basis depending on their circumstances, including, if they desire, information on where to get safe but illegal early medical abortion pills.
Does this mean ASN will need less money as there will be fewer clients coming through the service?
While it will hopefully be the case that fewer people from Northern Ireland need financial assistance, we expect that there will be people who are for some reason ineligible for terminations on the government scheme or who can’t afford travel and/or accommodation but fall outside of the financial eligibility – it’s possible that ASN and the UK government have a different idea of what constitutes “financial need.” Finally, what money we do “save” by not spending it on Northern Irish clients will mean that our clients from other jurisdictions will have to struggle less to raise funds to supplement the grants ASN is able to give. With your continued support, we hope to be able to give bigger grants to more clients.
These are exciting and changing times. ASN will continue to rely on the generosity of supporters like you to maintain our ability to support those who need us. As long as our phone continues to ring, and you’re still with us, we’ll be here to help.