Teenager takes NHS abortion challenge to Supreme Court

The 19-year-old is fighting for women from Northern Ireland to receive free abortions through the NHS in England

Teenager takes NHS abortion challenge to Supreme Court

Pro choice protest marchers in Dublin's Merrion Square in 2015 | Image: Rollingnews.ie

A teenager from Northern Ireland is challenging the NHS' refusal to fund abortions after she had to travel to England for a termination at 15-years-old.

The health service has so far refused to pay for abortions for women from Northern Ireland who travel to England for terminations.

Supreme Court justices will hear a challenge against a ruling which went against them at the Court of Appeal last year.

The young woman at the centre of the case, identified as 'A', is now 19. In October 2012, she and her mother travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester and was told she had to pay hundreds of pounds for a private termination because she was excluded from free abortion services.

They originally lost their action in the High Court in London in May 2014 when a judge ruled that the exclusion was lawful.

Lord Justice Elias, announcing the Court of Appeal's decision, said: ''There was nothing irrational in the approach of the Secretary of State. It is entirely logical to provide a range of NHS services throughout the UK on the basis of local residence requirements.''

Angela Jackman, a partner at law firm Simpson Millar, who has been representing the girl and her mother throughout the legal process, 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.

"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."

'A's lawyers have described the refusal to financially help women from Northern Ireland who are in crisis pregnancies as “perverse and unlawful”. 

'A' argues 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.

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. An estimated 2,000 women travel to England each year to terminate their pregnancy because it's illegal in Northern Ireland.

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.

A lawyer representing a woman taking a case against Ireland's abortion laws said last week that the case would only be settled "when the government undertakes reforms".

In Ireland, the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution gives equal rights to the unborn child to that of the mother, outlawing abortion in all cases. The Citizen's Assembly is due to discuss the Eight Amendment on November 26th. The assembly has called for submissions on the topic, with the closing date slated for December 16th.