Court rejects free abortions appeal by Northern Ireland mother and daughter

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A young woman and her mother have lost a Court of Appeal challenge against a ruling that prevents women from Northern Ireland receiving free abortions on the NHS in England.

Their case was rejected by three judges in London following a hearing last month.

Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Lord Justice Elias and Lord Justice McCombe had heard that the case was of considerable importance as some 2,000 women and girls from Northern Ireland, where abortion is banned, come to England for terminations every year.

The 18-year-old applicant was aged 15 when she made the journey in October 2012 with her mother and was told she had to pay hundreds of pounds for a private termination because she was excluded from free abortion services.

Referred to in court as A to protect her identity, she and her mother challenged a decision of Mr Justice King at the High Court in May last year that the exclusion was lawful.

The women’s solicitor Angela Jackman, a partner at law firm Simpson Millar, said after the decision was announced: “We have achieved some success in that the Court of Appeal has confirmed the significance of human rights legislation for this important issue.

“My clients did not give up last year and do not intend to give up now.”

She said they would be seeking to take to case to the Supreme Court and if necessary apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the light of “favourable rulings” on human rights issues.

Ms Jackman said she would be seeking to take the “landmark” case to the UK’s Supreme Court “as the inability of women from Northern Ireland to receive free NHS abortions in England, despite being UK citizens, remains of such huge significance”.

Currently abortion in Northern Ireland “is only legal in exceptional circumstances if the life or long-term health of a pregnant woman is at risk”.

The case was brought by A and her mother, referred to as B, who travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester for A’s abortion. The operation cost £600 on top of travel costs of £300.

When the case was before the High Court, Mr Justice King ruled that the Health Secretary was entitled to adopt a residence-based system so that women resident in Northern Ireland are not entitled to benefit from NHS abortion services in England, even thought they are UK citizens.

He declared A had no right under Article 8 (right to privacy and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights to a state-funded abortion, and there was no breach of anti-discrimination laws under Article 14.

Ms Jackman said today that although the appeal was dismissed, the Court of Appeal “disagreed with the Secretary of State for Health’s position on the applicability of human rights legislation and confirmed the relevance” of Articles 8 and 14 “in this area of law”.