Belfast Telegraph

Belfast branch of Marie Stopes to start charging for abortion care again

The Belfast branch of the Marie Stopes charity will no longer be waiving fees for abortion services for women in Northern Ireland.

In June, following a Labour-led push for a change in the law, the British government announced that fees for women from Northern Ireland travelling to England to undergo abortion procedures would be lifted.

Previously Northern Irish women could travel to England for a private abortion, but could not undergo the procedure for free on the NHS.

Following this announcement, Marie Stopes said it would waive fees for women using abortion services in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to The Times, acting managing director at Marie Stopes UK Sally Bassett said the government had confirmed it would not cover the cost of consultations or treatment for women at its Belfast clinic.

"We are disappointed that we are unable to offer funded care via our Belfast clinic, but we are pleased to be working with government partners to ensure funded options are available for Northern Irish women," Ms Bassett said.

Free abortions for Northern Irish women in England are to be provided through the Westminster Equalities Office rather than the NHS.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where terminations remained banned after the 1967 Abortion Act.

Abortions are available in Northern Ireland only under very limited circumstances, including where there is a serious risk to a woman's physical or mental health.

Responding to the news, Northern Ireland-based pro-choice activist group Alliance for Choice said that it believes this is "unfair treatment of women in Northern Ireland which ensures we are treated as second class citizens in this part of the UK.

"This decision will force people to pay for legal healthcare which is free for residents on the UK mainland, or make an avoidable journey to Great Britain to receive funding."

There was anger from anti-abortion campaigners earlier this year after it was announced that free NHS terminations for women from Northern Ireland would be provided in England.

The relaxation of the rules infuriated churches, pro-life activists and social conservatives in Northern Ireland.

Director of Precious Life Bernadette Smyth admitted at the time: "No one was prepared for this. This was unprecedented."

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