Northern Ireland women denied NHS abortion services in England after Judicial Review Challenge


Today’s reported case of A and B v Secretary of State for Health concerns an unsuccessful judicial review challenge in the High Court in Manchester by two women resident in Northern Ireland to a policy of the Secretary of State which determines that abortions on the NHS in England should not be available for residents of Northern Ireland. The Claimants are seeking to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.

The claim arises from the fact that Claimant A (who was a minor at the time, and whose identity cannot be revealed for legal reasons) had to travel to England in October 2012 with her mother, Claimant B (whose identity is also protected), who struggled to part-raise funds for her daughter to have a termination privately in England . Abortion law in Northern Ireland meant that it was impossible to have the termination there. The Secretary of State’s policy is to have regard to the legal position in Northern Ireland in refusing to allow women resident in Northern Ireland to have terminations on the NHS in England.

During 2011over 1,000 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England for privately funded abortions, given the legal situation in Northern Ireland.

The Claimants argued that there is an obvious need for this service to be provided on the NHS in England and it was accepted that the Secretary of State has powers to ensure that it is provided here. .

The Claimants argued that it was irrational for the Secretary of State not to provide such an important service to residents of part of the UK. They have argued that their rights to respect for private and family life were engaged, and they had been discriminated against simply because of their place of residence.

The claimants lost the application but are seeking permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal in light of the importance of this issue to a significant group of women in the UK. Their solicitor, Angela Jackman, Partner at Simpson Millar LLP states:

“It is very disappointing that the court did not find in favour of our clients. This is an important issue for thousands of women in Northern Ireland, and there have been recent calls in Parliament for changes in the law. Why should women from Northern Ireland have to pay for this health service in England despite being UK citizens? And what are women in Northern Ireland who need terminations supposed to do if they cannot afford to pay privately for the service in England? We think these are important issues for the Court of Appeal to consider”.

Notes to Editors:

The Claimants obtained assistance from the Abortion Network in London to pay for the private abortion. Baroness Thornton (Shadow spokesperson for Health 2010-2012, and currently Shadow spokesperson for Equalities and Women’s issues) raised the issue in the House of Lords on 16 October 2013 (Hansard Col 541):

The Claimants were represented by Angela Jackman from Simpson Millar, Stephen Cragg QC of Doughty Street Chambers and Austen Morgan from Thomas Bingham Chambers.

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