Belfast Telegraph

O'Loan's fury as Welsh offer Northern Ireland women free abortions despite public's opposition in survey

Nuala O'Loan
Nuala O'Loan

By Staff Reporter

Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan has criticised the Welsh Government's decision to offer Northern Ireland women free NHS abortions after it emerged that over 98% of respondents to a public consultation did not agree with the decision.

On Friday afternoon, the Welsh Government finally announced that it would be funding abortion services for women in Northern Ireland, although when the official press release went out, the list of responses had not been published.

Once they finally appeared, they showed that out of a total of 802 responses, only 14 were positive about the proposal with 788 opposed.

This means a tiny percentage - 1.74% - were in favour, while the vast majority - 98.26% were against the proposal.

Baroness O'Loan said: "As a member of the community in Northern Ireland I am appalled the Welsh Government put out a quick press release on Friday saying they are going to provide free abortions to women resident in Northern Ireland if they travel to Wales, without acknowledging that they had 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'.

"To make matters much worse, the 98.3% 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.

"As someone also from a devolved jurisdiction, I am shocked that the Welsh Government has behaved in this way.

"I now call on the Welsh Government to urgently review its handling of this consultation and the decision it announced on Friday."

Public policy charity CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) - which works in both Wales and Northern Ireland - said not a single Northern Irish woman responded positively to the proposal.

Wales is the last part of Great Britain to offer women in Northern Ireland free NHS abortions.

CARE's chief executive Nola Leach said: "This is one of the most ridiculous consultation exercises I have ever witnessed.

"What is the point of holding a public consultation if you simply end up doing what you want to do anyway?

"This consultation is a complete sham. Clearly it was nothing more than a tick-box exercise for the Welsh Government.

"It makes a complete mockery of the 788 responses which were opposed to the proposals and the simple fact is the Welsh Government should not be so blatantly ignoring the 98% who took the time to respond and were against the idea. The Welsh Government should be ashamed of itself for the way this consultation has been conducted."

Abortion is currently illegal in Northern Ireland in all but the most extreme cases and as a result on average 28 women a week travel to England for terminations.

Last week, Welsh Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said he did not expect a large number of women to avail of the offer.

"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," he said.

"We anticipate the number of women from Northern Ireland accessing these services to be low and health boards have assured us they are able to absorb this provision within existing resources. I have asked my officials to conduct a review of the position after six months."

New regulations allowing women from Northern Ireland to access NHS abortion services in Scotland were introduced a year ago.

Last month an amendment to a bill by NI Secretary of State Karen Bradley by Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn calling on Mrs Bradley to issue guidance on abortion law in Northern Ireland was passed in the Commons.

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