Supreme Court Prepares To Consider NHS-Funded Abortions For Northern Irish Women


The Law Of...being heard 

The Supreme Court will tomorrow consider the question of whether women from Northern Ireland are currently unlawfully denied abortions paid for by the National Health Service in England.

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The case concerns the last resort for hundreds of women from Northern Ireland who are currently travelling to the UK mainland and paying privately for a termination each year.

A & B v the Secretary of State for Health involves a young woman and her mother. The state has so far refused to pay for abortions on the NHS for women from Northern Ireland – a position, which the women’s lawyer says, is ‘perverse and unlawful’.

Abortion in Northern Ireland is only lawful where the life or long-term health of the pregnant woman is at risk. But the issue has become increasingly controversial and only last week, the BBC reported how a woman in Northern Ireland was charged by police after using illegal abortion pills. Last year, in similar circumstances, another woman was prosecuted in Northern Ireland.

The Case

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.

The Lawyer’s Views

Angela Jackman, a partner at law firm Simpson Millar has been representing A & B throughout the legal process.

Angela says: “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.”

The Supreme Court has recently granted six national charities the right to intervene in the case (see notes for details); a sign that the country’s highest court is taking the issue extremely seriously, says Angela.

“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.”

Bpas, Family Planning Association, Alliance for Choice, Abortion Support Network, Birthright and British Humanist Association have been granted permission to provide their perspectives on the issue as interveners.

The case failed in the Court of Appeal where it was heard on 9 June 2015.

Notes For Editors

  1. R (A and B) v. Secretary of State for Health is listed for a one-day hearing in the Supreme Court on Wednesday 2 November 2016 before (L Hale, L Kerr, L Wilson L Reed and L Hughes. Case ID: UKSC 2015/0220
  1. A and B are represented by Angela Jackman, Partner with Simpson Millar solicitors, counsel Steve Cragg QC (Monckton Chambers) and Caoilfhionn Gallagher (Doughty Street Chambers).
  1. The Court of Appeal has granted permission to the following six charities to intervene by way of written submissions: Alliance for Choice, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Birthrights, Family Planning Association, Abortion Support Network and British Humanist Association

A and B will not give interviews about this case, but queries can be directed to Angela Jackman via RTS media (contact details below).

Christina Savage
RTS Media
DD: 0330 113 7998

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