By Harry Farley
Philip Hammond told MPs the government will fund terminations in England for women from Northern Ireland which has the strictest laws on abortion in the UK.
It comes after dozens of Tory backbenchers were preparing to back a Labour motion to the Queen's Speech that would end a £900 charge for Northern Irish women to have the procedure in England.
The move is a major breakthrough for pro-choice campaigners with abortion continuing to cause controversy as the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1967 Abortion Act approaches this autumn.
The decision was announced in a letter to MPs from Justin Greening, the education secretary and equalities minister, who hinted at her own personal support for the issue.
'As minister for women and equalities, I share the concerns of many colleagues about the experience of women from Northern Ireland obtaining an abortion through the NHS in England,' she wrote.
'At present women from Northern Ireland are asked for payment and from now on it is our proposal that this will no longer happen. This is clearly a sensitive issue and one which has direct implications for equality in treatment of women from Northern Ireland.'
Christian charity CARE criticized the government's decision with chief executive Nola Leach saying she was 'disappointed' in the stance it had taken.
'An abortion is never an easy decision to make. We recognize 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,' she said.
'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.Christian Today continues