Rónán Stewart, Contributor.
The UK Supreme Court has decided by a slim majority of 3-2 that women travelling from Northern Ireland to England cannot access abortion services free of charge on the NHS in England.
The case concerned a woman, known only as A, who became pregnant aged 15 in 2012, and her mother known as B, who travelled to Manchester to seek an abortion at a total cost of £900 – a cost afforded with the help of the London-based charity, Abortion Support Network and friends.
In the leading judgement, Lord Wilson, with the support of Lord Hughes and Lord Reed, said that placing a duty on the NHS in England to provide free abortions for women travelling from NI to England would result in ‘‘a substantial level of health tourism into England from within the UK and from abroad and a near collapse of the edifice of devolved health services.’’
Lady Hale and Lord Kerr disagreed with the leading judgement stating that failure to allow Northern Irish women free access to abortion services on England’s NHS is a breach of Article 8 (Right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (Prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Amnesty International NI Campaign Manager, Grainne Teggart, has called the Supreme Court’s decision “a further blow to women from Northern Ireland, who already face some of the harshest abortion laws in Europe.”
The Supreme Court’s decision follows a report published by the Department of Health earlier this week indicating that 724 women travelled from Northern Ireland to England to access legal abortion services in 2016, a reduction in numbers from the 833 women in 2015.
Northern Ireland based pro-life group Precious Life have hailed the 13% drop in abortion figures between 2015 and 2016 as an indication that “more women are choosing life for their babies as a direct result of the daily work of Precious Life in helping and supporting vulnerable women in crisis pregnancies”.
Founder of Abortion Support Network, Mara Clarke said that “The statistics also do not include the women who give the address of a local friend or family member, or who travel to other countries to access abortions.”
She added that these numbers do not account for “women who need, but cannot obtain, passports or visas; women who cannot escape from violent partners; and women who do not have the £400 to £2,000 it costs to travel to England and pay privately for an abortion.”
“We know that making abortion against the law doesn’t stop abortion. It just means that those with money have options and those without do not. ’’
The appellants, A and B, following the Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday, now plan to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
In a statement, they said that they would do so in an attempt “to protect the human rights of the many other women who make the lonely journey to England every week because they are denied access to basic healthcare services in their own country.”