Blog

Abortions for NI Women in Wales

In January-February this year the Welsh government set up a consultation on the issue of funding abortions in Wales for women resident in NI. Of the 802 responses to that consultation, only 14 were in support, and not a single one of those came from any NI woman. On the contrary, the majority were against the proposal. That means that 98.254% of respondents opposed the proposal for the Welsh Government to fund abortions for women travelling from Northern Ireland while only 1.746% were in favour. As a result of the consultation the Welsh government decided to ignore the majority of the responses and press ahead with abortion provision for women normally resident in NI. Their reason for rejecting the 98.254% was that they all came from the pro-life sector such that the objections were the same, thus they treated the opposition en masse.

Aside from the fact that the government should not have been surprised that pro-life responses would in fact be uniformly pro-life, the government ought not to dismiss the individuality of those who did engage with the consultation. Indeed, what is the point of such a consultation if the government intends on doing what it wants in spite of majority opposition?

As an indication that all the pro-life responses should not be treated en masse, but that individuals took time and care to construct reasonable opposition to the proposal, we here publish a submission made by Mary Lewis BL to the consultation. Hers is just one of a number of such submissions which the Welsh government has chosen to ignore. This submission was made in early 2018, and so some of the details pertaining to the SDLP’s position on abortion have changed since then, nevertheless they were true at the time the submission was made.

Response to the consultation on funding abortions for non resident women from Northern Ireland

An unjustified interference

Abortion is not a devolved matter for the Welsh Assembly yet it is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly which has voted on the issue a mere two years ago[1] and rejected a liberalisation of our law on abortion. It is totally inappropriate for the Welsh Assembly to act in any way regarding abortion or any other internal Northern Irish matter.

Terminology

The consultation document insists on using the euphemism “Termination of Pregnancy,” tritely abbreviated further to TOP, to lessen the reality of the horror of the process, otherwise known as abortion. It should not be forgotten that this procedure ends the life of the most vulnerable human beings – in certain cases up to full term, e.g. where the baby has a disability.[2]

Numbers of Northern Ireland Women who undergo a lawful abortion in Wales.

It is our understanding anecdotally that very few women from Northern Ireland actually avail of lawful abortion in Wales. The Welsh Government will be aware of precisely how low this figure is. This raises the question:  why does the Welsh Government consider it necessary to take action on this issue? How much did this consultation cost?  If there is virtually no demand by Northern Ireland women for abortion in Wales why should scarce  resources, which could be spent in other multiple ways, not be used  to fund the  health of Welsh citizens who are already suffering long waiting lists for essential medical treatment because of  existing NHS constraints.

Democracy

The Abortion Act 1967 does not apply in Northern Ireland because the democratically elected Members of the Legislative Assembly have not voted in favour of its extension. Indeed the SDLP, which is a sister party of the Labour party has a mandate not to extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.[3] Other political parties including the two with the largest mandate ie the DUP and Sinn Fein equally have stood for election on the basis of being against the extension of the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. The proposal to fund Northern Ireland women to have abortions in Wales brings the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland by the back door.

The Labour party does not operate in Northern Ireland and the Conservative party has an almost negligible level of support. It is arrogant in the extreme for either of these party groupings to presume or predetermine what is “best for Northern Ireland women” or citizens more generally.

Effect of the Abortion Act 1967

Since abortion was legalised in England and Wales just over 50 years ago,  there have been 8.8 million abortions – the equivalent of the entire population of  London. This translates to 1 in 5 pregnancies ending in abortion[4]  and an abortion every three minutes.[5] Abortion is no longer an exceptional response to a crisis, as is evidenced by the fact that 38% of lawful abortions in England and Wales last year were repeat abortions. [6] Surely there must be a better, kinder  way for women, babies and families in crisis than a default assumption that abortion solves the problem.

Appetite of Welsh taxpayers for this proposal

The residents and taxpayers of Wales have not been asked prior to this consultation whether they wish to have pre-existing stretched NHS resources redistributed to facilitate Northern Ireland women to have abortions in Wales. The public is constantly advised that the NHS is at breaking point, yet resources are to be found to pay for medical procedures for non-residents of Wales. The consultation document is unclear whether this funding will emanate from the Government Equalities Office (as in England) or whether the Welsh Government will have to find the funds from its own budget.

Conclusion

The proposals outlined in this consultation lack evidence of economic, equality, or any other justification and  I respectfully submit  that they should not be pursued further. I note that the Welsh Government proposes to review the position “six months after they come into force” which suggests that this consultation is a fait accompli. In any event, if the proposal is passed, there  will be many in Northern Ireland who will also closely monitor the situation through Freedom of Information channels and any other appropriate manner.

MARY J LEWIS BL

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/11/northern-ireland-abortion-laws-easing-voted-down.

[2] S 1 (1) d  of the Abortion Act 1967 as amended by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990.

[3] A policy which has persisted since 1984.

[4] 190406 abortions were carried out in England and Wales in 2016 as reported in https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/679028/Abortions_stats_England_Wales_2016.pdf  Of these , 185 596 were on residents of England and Wales. There were 696271 live births in England and Wales in 2016 see https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/livebirths/bulletins/birthsummarytablesenglandandwales/2016#main-points.

[5] As reported by Lord David Alton in a speech given at St Bride’s Hall, Belfast on January 25th 2018.

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/report-on-abortion-statistics-in-england-and-wales-for-2016, p 6.