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NGOs pledge continuing support to two women from Northern Ireland in abortion rights legal case

A group of reproductive healthcare organisations have pledged to continue to support a woman from Northern Ireland and her mother in their legal battle regarding the provision of abortions in England for women from Northern Ireland.

Supreme Court

14 June 2017

The group of NGOs were interveners in the Supreme Court appeal of two women from Northern Ireland, known as A and B, who were challenging the decision not to provide abortions free of charge from NHS England for women from Northern Ireland.
 
The women narrowly lost their case in the Supreme Court and have announced that they will take their legal battle to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.
 
Law firm Leigh Day represented the NGOs - Alliance for Choice, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Birthrights, Family Planning Association and Abortion Support Network –  in the case and will be applying for permission on behalf of their clients to intervene in the ECtHR appeal.
 
Woman A travelled to Manchester from Northern Ireland with her mother, B, in 2012 to seek an abortion. She underwent the termination at a private clinic at a cost of around £900. 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. Abortion is banned in all but extreme circumstances in Northern Ireland.
 
Through their legal team the NGOs 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 Supreme Court ruled, by 3-2, that the Health Secretary was entitled to reach the decision not to provide terminations free of charge under NHS England to women from Northern Ireland.
 
In her dissenting judgment, Lady Hale praised the helpfulness of the NGOs’ intervention and remarked that: “The protection of dignity and autonomy is a core value underlying the rights guaranteed by article 8. The difference in treatment by the NHS in England between women from England and women from Northern Ireland cannot be justified by respect for the democratic decisions made in Northern Ireland as to what will be provided by the NHS there.”
 
The NGOs were represented by law firm Leigh Day, Helen Mountfield QC of Matrix Chambers and Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers.
 
Rowan Smith, of Leigh Day’s Human Rights team, said:
 
“The judgment handed down by the Supreme Court today is a major set-back for women’s rights in the UK and must be appealed to Strasbourg without delay. Women from Northern Ireland, who are UK citizens, must have access to the pregnancy services they need. The women in Northern Ireland who cannot afford to pay privately for termination services in England, what are they supposed to do?
 
“This major gap in our nation’s health services must be rectified as a matter of priority. We are talking about fundamental rights here. It is regressive for the Secretary of State for Health to be defending his policy to refuse them access to NHS services in England. Our clients hope the European Court will now step in and rectify this appalling situation.
 
“Leigh Day is immensely proud to have represented the group of NGOs who intervened in this case in support of the women’s legal battle.
 
“We will continue the fight by seeking permission to intervene in any appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.”

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