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“A further blow to women from Northern Ireland”: Amnesty response to Supreme Court ruling against access to abortion via NHS

Amnesty International has called a decision of the UK Supreme Court today that women from Northern Ireland are not entitled to free abortion care within the NHS in England as “a further blow to women from Northern Ireland, who already face some of the harshest abortion laws in Europe.”

The UK Supreme Court this morning narrowly upheld a ban on NHS-funded abortion care, due to the government’s “respect” for decisions of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has repeatedly failed to bring the region’s abortion provision into line with international human rights standards.

Grainne Teggart, Campaign Manager for Amnesty International in Northern Ireland, said:

“This is a further blow to women from Northern Ireland, who already face some of the harshest abortion laws in Europe. This ruling means that women and girls from Northern Ireland will continue to be treated as second class citizens. As ever, it is the most marginalised women who will be worst affected.

“It is vital that changes to abortion laws in Northern Ireland go ahead without delay so that women who need an abortion can have one there rather than having to travel to England.”

Background to the case:

In 2012, A, a young woman of 15 resident in Northern Ireland, became pregnant. In order to obtain an abortion, she used the services of a private clinic in England with B, her mother (and her litigation friend in these proceedings), at a total cost of £900 (including travel). She did so because she reasonably believed that abortion services would not be available to her in Northern Ireland or through the NHS in England because she was ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland. 

The Abortion Act 1967, which liberalised the law of abortion, does not extend to Northern Ireland. It would be within the power of the Secretary of State to make greater provision for abortion services to be provided to women from Northern Ireland through the NHS in England but, save in exceptional cases, he had not exercised that power at the material time and has not done so since. A brought proceedings for judicial review. She contended that the failure to exercise the Secretary of State's power and the continuation of the exclusionary policy applicable (inter alia) to women ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland was unlawful. The claim was dismissed, and the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

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