NHS Abortion Funding Case proceeds to European Court of Human Rights

5th March 2019

Public Law Solicitors acting on behalf of a mother and daughter who have taken their battle to the European Court of Human Rights over the refusal to allow women from Northern Ireland access to abortion services free of charge in England have today welcomed progress in the case.

The duo, known only as ‘A and B’, instructed Public Law Solicitors at Simpson Millar to issue legal proceedings against the English Secretary of State for Health six years ago after they were forced to raise £900 to travel from Northern Ireland to Manchester for B to be treated at a private clinic.

An abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her physical and mental health. The 1967 Abortion Act, which governs the rest of the UK, was not extended to Northern Ireland.

A and B were only able to afford the treatment and travel costs thanks to financial support from the charity Abortion Support Network.
The High Court ruled in 2014 that women from Northern Ireland were not legally entitled to free abortions on the NHS in England, and in 2017 the case was heard on appeal by the UK Supreme Court but was narrowly rejected.

Within weeks of the Supreme Court ruling, the Government agreed to introduce a scheme to allow women from Northern Ireland to access abortion services free of charge in England. However, A and B remain concerned as there is no guarantee the scheme will remain in place.

Despite the setbacks, after a successful crowdfunding campaign an application was made to the European Court of Human Rights in November 2017; today A and B’s Solicitor confirmed that their case to hold the UK Government to account for its historically unfair treatment of women from Northern Ireland seeking abortion services in England has moved to the next phase as it has been formally communicated to the UK Government by the Court.

News of the latest development in the proceedings coincides with the Inquiry of Westminster’s Women and Equalities Committee into abortion law in Northern Ireland.

On February 26th, twenty-eight women, representing the number of women who fly from Northern Ireland for an abortion every week, marched with suitcases to parliament as part of a peaceful protest. The group delivered a 62,000 name petition to Westminster requesting abortion law reform in the country.

Commenting on the case of A and B, Public Law Solicitor Angela Jackman from Simpson Millar said, “Both A and B are delighted that their case is progressing through the European Court of Human Rights, which has now formally communicated their claim to the UK Government – setting them on a path for meaningful engagement with their claim by the Government.

“A and B have always been determined clients who want to hold the UK Government to account for its historically unfair treatment of women from Northern Ireland seeking abortion services in England.

“There are currently several initiatives being taken to improve reproductive rights in Northern Ireland, but none of these are set in stone; it’s long past time for the Government to apologise to A and B for what they have been through and to commit to lasting change for all women in Northern Ireland.

“We also welcome the current Inquiry of the Westminster Women and Equalities Committee on the issue of abortion law in Northern Ireland, and are hopeful that this will lead to long overdue meaningful reform.”

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