Despite numerous protests, the Northern Ireland assembly has refused to relax abortion legislation. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Teenager is taking NHS to supreme court over its refusal to fund abortions for woman from Northern Ireland
A Northern Irish teenager who as a fifteen year old had to go to England to terminate a pregnancy, is challenging the NHS’s refusal to fund abortions for women from the region in the supreme court on Wednesday.
The health service has so far refused to pay for abortions for women from Northern Ireland who travel to England for terminations.
The girl, identified as “A”, and her mother are appealing to the supreme court to force the NHS to fund abortions. Their lawyers have described the refusal to financially help women from Northern Ireland who are in crisis pregnancies as “perverse and unlawful”.
Abortion is only available in Northern Ireland’s hospitals when there is a direct threat to the mother’s life if the pregnancy continues. In all other cases abortion is illegal.
Last November, a high court judge ruled that, as it stands, Northern Ireland’s abortion laws violate the rights of women and girls in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities or where a pregnancy is the result of a sexual crime.
An estimated 2,000 women travel to English hospitals and clinics from Northern Ireland every year to have terminations. All of these women have to raise money to go to private clinics in England for abortions.
There is strong opposition to liberalising the province’s strict anti-abortion laws across the floor of the Northern Ireland assembly. The 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland, and a bid to ease the country’s termination laws to include cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancy via sexual crime was rejected earlier this year.
In the supreme court on Wednesday judges will be told that in 2012, then 15-year old “A travelled to Manchester from Northern Ireland with her mother (B), where she paid £600 for an abortion, on top of £300 in travel costs.
They received charitable assistance from the Abortion Support Network in the sum of £400 without which they could not have afforded the treatment. A and B have since argued in the high court and court of appeal that the cost of the treatment should have been free for them as UK citizens, and that by not enacting this change, Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for health, has failed in his duty to make NHS procedures reasonably available.
Angela Jackman, a partner at law firm Simpson Millar, has been representing A & B throughout the legal process.
Jackman said: “For women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant and seek a termination, the status quo is almost unbearable. I believe the legal arguments of the secretary of State are perverse and contrary to its international obligations. Many women face the choice between an unlawful termination using dangerous and illegal pills, with the prospect of prosecution to follow, or a costly journey to England where they must pay privately for an abortion. For many women, those costs are prohibitive.”
She continued: “This is the end of a long and significant domestic journey. I am pleased that the issue is finally being given due consideration by the supreme court, the importance of which cannot be underestimated.”
The supreme court has recently granted six national charities the right to intervene in the A and B case.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Family Planning Association, Alliance for Choice, Abortion Support Network, Birthright and the British Humanist Association have been granted permission to provide their perspectives on the issue in the supreme cCourt hearing.
Jackman added: “I am pleased that the court has permitted these six charities to provide submissions in this case. Through their efforts in providing advice and assistance to women like ‘A’, and campaigning for the reproductive choices of women, these charities can offer invaluable insight into the reality of the situation for the court’s consideration.”
The British Humanist Association’s director of public affairs and policy, Pavan Dhaliwal, said denying women from Northern Ireland in crisis pregnancies support was putting their lives at risk.
“Our government’s stance in refusing women from Northern Ireland safe and legal abortion on the NHS is shameful and we believe it is a breach of human rights laws. The supreme court judges have an opportunity to rectify a situation which currently causes undue distress to hundreds of women and leaves many more with no choice but to buy illegal abortion pills online,” he said.
The case will concern A and B versus the secretary of state for health. The arguments will be heard in front of five judges at the one-day hearing.
Source: The Guardian