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Free abortion care offered to Northern Ireland women

By Victoria Leonard

An abortion rights group has announced it will no longer charge women from Northern Ireland for abortion care.

In response to last week's government pledge to provide free NHS abortions in England to women from here, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is removing all consultation and treatment fees for women resident in Northern Ireland.

Women who have received treatment from bpas since last Friday will also have their fees refunded. The group treated 230 women from Northern Ireland in 2016.

In a statement, bpas said that it was "concerned that women may delay treatment as they wait for the commitment to be actioned" and that "while abortion is a very safe procedure, the earlier it can be performed the better for women's mental and physical health".

It added: "We hope our decision will provide clarity for women at what can be an extremely anxious time.

"Bpas looks forward to working with the government to put the new funding scheme in place as soon as possible."

Ulster University academic Dr Fiona Bloomer, who is researching abortion policy, welcomed the forthcoming change in the law, but said that it was still unclear what costs would be covered.

"This law change does not solve everything for women from Northern Ireland," she said.

"All we know at this stage is that the abortion itself will be paid for and it makes it easier for those women who can travel, but there are still a number of barriers.

"I would welcome it if the law change would also include funding for the accommodation and travel.

"Getting to England in the first place can be quite costly, and there could also be health reasons.

"Domestic abuse could mean a woman's movements are controlled, or maybe she has caring responsibilities and can't leave the country for a day.

"If you are on a low income and only have an overall budget of £60 for food and household costs, then finding extra money for travel and accommodation won't be easy.

"Also, having to travel can be very emotionally isolating.

"And if you have to travel due to Fatal Foetal Abnormality and want to bring the remains home for burial or additional testing, will that be covered?"

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