Abortion case: Supreme Court hears NI women 'second-class citizens'

02 November 2016

Women from Northern Ireland who seek abortion are "second-class citizens", the Supreme Court has been told. On Wednesday, the court heard a legal challenge brought by a mother and daughter who want women from Northern Ireland to be allowed access to NHS-funded abortion care in England. Women from Northern Ireland are not entitled to free NHS abortions in England. Judgement in the case has been reserved until a later date. ◾Why are Northern Ireland's abortion laws different? ◾70% 'support abortion law change', says Amnesty poll In Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, abortion is only allowed if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. 'Desperate and stressful practices' The case at the centre of the hearing was originally brought in 2014 by a young woman, A, and her mother, B. The young woman was 15 when she and her mother travelled to Manchester to have an abortion, at a reported cost of £900. According to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), last year 833 women were recorded as having travelled from Northern Ireland to England and Wales for abortion care. If A succeeds it could open the way for women from Northern Ireland to be permitted abortions on the NHS in England. She argues that the Secretary of State for Health failed to discharge his duty under section three of the NHS Act 2006 to "meet all reasonable requirements" in England for services - including abortion. A also argues that her human rights under Article 8 and Article 12 of European Convention of Human Rights, have been breached and she has been discriminated against - by reason of being treated differently from other women in England. However, the fact that abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland - save in exceptional circumstances - remains a major obstacle. Their challenge against a ruling that prevents women from Northern Ireland having free NHS abortions in England was unsuccessful at the High Court and the Court of Appeal, but they were granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. In court, a lawyer for the two women said that women in A's position "find themselves in desperate and stressful practices and become second-class citizens in abortion". He added that B said it was "more stressful, humiliating and traumatic for a 15-year-old girl than it needs to be". Lady Hale, the deputy president of the Supreme Court, told the women's lawyers that she was far more interested in the human rights arguments in the case than the NHS Act arguments.