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Outrage as UK Govt offers free abortions to NI children - without parental consent

17 November 2017


Vulnerable underage girls could travel overseas for an abortion without their parents even knowing.

When could a child travelling overseas for an abortion without her parents knowing be in her best interests? 

It has emerged that the Government's plan to offer free abortions to Northern Ireland women, and to pay for travel costs, extends to minors in the province - and that they can be carried out without parental consent.

The move has been slammed by campaigners and Northern Ireland politicians, with one MLA warning that it "could perpetuate abusive and illegal relationships."

Repeated betrayals

The Minister for Equality abandoned the UK Government's long-standing policy of neutrality on abortion in June, when she  committed to providing funding for abortions carried out on women coming to England and Wales from Northern Ireland, in response to an amendment to the Queen’s Speech by Labour MP Stella Creasy. Then, in October, the Government announced that it would cover the cost of travel to the UK for women on low incomes and the setting up of a centralised telephone booking system - an extension which targets poorer women, as there is no additional funding to support women who want to keep their babies. The extension was made with no parliamentary scrutiny or public consultation. 

"In their best interests"

It has now emerged that the extended scheme will apply to minors. In response to a Parliamentary question from Lord Alton of Liverpool, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Lord O’Shaughnessy, said that under 18s would "receive help towards travel costs if they receive qualifying benefits or meet the low income criteria." He also confirmed that provided they met the criteria laid out in the Fraser guidelines, "a doctor or health professional is able to provide...sexual and reproductive health advice and treatment, including abortion, without parental knowledge or consent, to a young person aged under 16 years." 

These guidelines, based on a 1985 ruling, state that abortion and contraception can be given to under 16s without parental consent for criteria such as "that it would be in the young person’s best interest to give such advice or treatment without parental consent."

Undermining parents and putting children in danger

Yesterday, TUV leader Jim Allister called on the government to "think again and consider the ramifications of this policy for child protection in NI." He warned that the decision "leaves children vulnerable to those who engage in unlawful sexual activity putting pressure on girls to get rid of unborn children without telling a girl’s parents - something which could perpetuate abusive and illegal relationships."

Today, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson joined the protest, saying that allowing girls to travel to England for a termination without their parents’ consent was "undermining the role of parenthood."

"This opens up a whole range of issues, not least of which is child protection," he continued. "There is also surely a criminal element to consider, as girls under-16 are below the age of consent." 

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