Women from Northern Ireland who travel to England to terminate pregnancies are being treated as “second-class citizens” because the NHS refuses to fund abortions. This is a breach of their human rights and NHS guidelines, ruled the Supreme Court on November 3.
The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
As reported by The Guardian, the barrister was opening a legal challenge brought on behalf of a woman, identified only as A, who travelled to Manchester in 2012 aged 15, at a cost of £300, and was required to pay £600 for an abortion.
Abortion is only available in Northern Irish hospitals when there is a direct threat to the mother’s life if the pregnancy continues. In all other cases, abortion is illegal.
An estimated 2,000 women travel to English hospitals and clinics from Northern Ireland every year for terminations. All of them have to find enough money to go to private clinics in England.
Stephen Cragg QC, representing A and her mother, told the court: “When it comes to abortion services, women from Northern Ireland are essentially second-class citizens.
“Criminal penalties are still imposed on those who seek access to abortion services in Northern Ireland. Life imprisonment is still on the statute books. The most recent penalty was a three-month suspended sentence for a woman who accessed [abortion] drugs via the internet.
“It’s not surprising that, as the mother explains in this case, this was far more stressful and humiliating for a 15-year-old girl than it needs to be.”
In related news, the BBC reported that the case will open the way for women from Northern Ireland to be permitted abortions on the NHS in England.
Ahead of the ruling, Lady Hale, the deputy president of the Supreme Court, told the women’s lawyers that she was far more interested in the human rights arguments in the case than the NHS Act arguments.