Christian campaigners have reacted with disappointment after the UK government revealed plans to provide free abortion services in England for women from Northern Ireland, where terminations are heavily restricted.
The Westminster-based Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) warned the government not to 'overstretch its reach' after the equalities minister, Justine Greening, said a charge of around £900 to Northern Irish women having a termination in other parts of the UK was an injustice after successful campaigning on the issue by the Labour MP Stella Creasy.
The government announced that by the end of the year, Northern Irish women will have the right to access free abortion services, and a central telephone booking system will be set up for women to arrange an appointment with a healthcare professional in England.
The move comes ahead of the fiftieth anniversary on Friday of the Abortion Act which legalised terminations in England, Wales and Scotland but not Northern Ireland.
CARE's Chief Executive Nola Leach said: 'CARE is disappointed that the government is still pursuing this option even though it significantly undermines the rule of law in Northern Ireland. The government should not overstretch its reach – it does not have a mandate to intervene in Northern Ireland; abortion is a devolved issue and should be decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
'A recent study, independently verified by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), showed that there were 100,000 people alive today because of Northern Ireland's laws on abortion. They would not be alive had the 1967 Act been extended to the province. Meanwhile over 8 million lives have been lost in the fifty years since the 1967 Abortion Act was introduced in Great Britain."
'In light of these figures, the government should be looking to Northern Ireland for an example on how their laws on abortion support the most vulnerable and create a life-affirming culture.'
Leach added: 'An abortion is never an easy decision to make. We recognise that there are difficulties women face with pregnancies, especially in cases where the unborn child may be born with a life-limiting disease, but we do not believe that abortion is the answer.
'Women and girls who are experiencing crisis pregnancies need support. The offer of funding for a free abortion in another country is short-sighted as it neglects any mention of an offer of counselling or care for the woman."
'A better use of the funds would be to spend the money on better support services, both physical and psychological, and for greater access to them for all mothers.'