Wales announced Friday that they would allow women from Northern Ireland to receive free abortions. They join Scotland and England in offering free abortions to residents of Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland bans abortion unless the mother’s health is “at risk.” Women from Northern Ireland would often travel to Wales, England, or Scotland to obtain an abortion, but they would have to pay for the procedure.
Scotland and England offered free abortions to women from Northern Ireland in 2017. Wales joined them, arguing that women from the United Kingdom should have equal access to abortion.
Vaughan Gething, Wales’ Health Secretary, said in announcing the move that “Our view has always been a woman from Northern Ireland, in Wales, should be able to access termination of pregnancy on the same basis as women in Wales.”
The government made the decision despite intense opposition. They conducted a consultation and 98.3% of the 788 respondents disagreed with the measure.
Those opposed voiced their concerns about the morality of abortion, the use of public money to fund the procedure, and the undermining of Northern Ireland’s laws. The Welsh government made an end run around the objections, saying, “These responses all contained identical objections and they are therefore treated collectively.”
Baroness Nuala O’Loan, a former Police Ombudsman, lambasted the Welsh government’s decision. She criticized their putting out a “quick press release” while not “acknowledging that they conducted a public consultation on this highly controversial proposal, in response to which 98.3% of respondents said ‘don’t do it’ to just 1.7% who said ‘proceed.’”
O’Loan continued, “To make matters worse, the 89.3% of respondents embrace a significant number of women from Northern Ireland, those who will be impacted by the provision and whose views, therefore, matter the most.” She called on Wales to review their handling of the consultation and rethink the decision.
Gething believes few women to take advantage of the new policy. He said, “We anticipate the number of women from Northern Ireland accessing these services to be low.” He also announced that health officials “to conduct a review of the position after six months.”
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