Irish health minister promises Northern Irish access to abortion services in Republic

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Irish Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed that women living in Northern Ireland will be able to travel (Irish Times) to the Irish Republic to access abortion services once they are made available following a historic referendum to overturn a ban on the procedure.

In May, the Republic of Ireland’s public vote to overturn the Eighth Amendment — a constitutional provision that outlawed abortion in nearly all instances — made global headlines. It marked a significant turn away from Catholic influence in Ireland and towards more liberal, secular health policy.

But in Northern Ireland, the part of the United Kingdom that lies on the island of Ireland, bordering the Republic, abortion remains illegal in most cases. NI has stricter rules on abortion than the rest of the UK.

The referendum in Ireland gave “hope” to women in Northern Ireland, said the UK’s Women and Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt at the time of the vote, as women there questioned their rights in light of Ireland’s lifting of the ban.

However, abortion advocacy groups argue that being able to travel from Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic is still not a solution. They call for the UK government to decriminalize termination services in Northern Ireland. The maximum penalty for an illegal abortion in Northern Ireland is life imprisonment.

Women seeking abortion in Northern Ireland often travel to England, Scotland and Wales to access abortion services on the National Health Service. In 2017, 19 percent of abortions carried out in England and Wales for non residents were for women from Northern Ireland. But activists pushing to allow abortion in Northern Ireland say needing to travel puts women in jeopardy and under unnecessary strain at a vulnerable time in their lives.

Pro-abortion rights advocacy group Alliance for Choice said in a statement: “The commitment from Ireland’s Health Minister to provide another option for those who are able to travel for services displays continued willingness to provide support, but alas many will still be unable to travel and will be forced to continue a pregnancy against their will.”

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