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Lawyer for reproductive healthcare NGOs welcomes government U-turn on funding abortions for women from Northern Ireland

The government has announced today that women from Northern Ireland will no longer be expected to pay for abortions performed in England.

Houses of Parliament

29 June 2017

The announcement was made by Chancellor Philip Hammond in the House of Commons following a letter to MPs from Equalities Minister Justine Greening that said additional funds would be made available so that women from Northern Ireland could access free abortions in England through the NHS.

Rowan Smith, solicitor in Leigh Day’s human rights team, represented a group of reproductive healthcare organisations in their support for a legal case brought by a woman from Northern Ireland and her mother (known as A and B) who were forced to pay for an abortion in England.

Rowan said:

"The Chancellor’s announcement is truly wonderful news for the many women in Northern Ireland, who until now have not been able to access free abortion services in England. 

“It is a real shame the government chose to spend vast amounts of public money defending its policy before the Courts, delaying such access for so many years.

“We very much welcome this government U-turn which is an important step forward in recognising the importance of women’s rights across the United Kingdom. "

Leigh Day represented the NGOs - Alliance for Choice, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Birthrights, Family Planning Association and Abortion Support Network –  who were interveners in the Supreme Court case in support of the woman and her mother from Northern Ireland. 

The women argued in their case that the failure of the Secretary of State for Health to provide the termination free of charge under NHS England was unlawful. 

The NGOs, through their legal team, made submissions to the Supreme Court focusing on the Government’s international legal obligations to provide women with appropriate pregnancy services - for free, where necessary -  as well as the fundamental values of autonomy and equality, which underlie the UK’s legal system.

The women narrowly lost their case in the Supreme Court in June and announced shortly afterwards that that they would take their legal battle to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.

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