Block on Northern Ireland women getting free NHS abortions in England is challenged
The Court of Appeal has reserved judgment on a young woman's challenge to a ruling that stops women from Northern Ireland receiving free NHS abortions in England.
Three appeal judges in London said they would take time to consider their decision, as it was revealed there has been a rise in the number of women from here making the trip to England for terminations.
The UK Department of Health has revealed 837 women went across the water for the procedure in 2014 - a rise of 35 on the previous year.
Lawful abortions in Northern Ireland are only available in rare, circumstances in Northern Ireland, and do not cover, for example, rape, incest or foetal abnormality.
The 18-year-old Appeal Court applicant was aged 15 when she travelled to England in October 2012 with her mother and was told she had to pay hundreds of pounds for a private termination because she was excluded from free abortion services.
Referred to in court as A to protect her identity, she and her mother are challenging a decision of Mr Justice King in the High Court in London in May last year that the exclusion was lawful.
The full cost - including travel, accomodation, and the procedure - is estimated to be around £900, and the pair struggled to raise funds.
Their solicitor, Angela Jackman, believes a decision could be made within the next two months.
Ms Jackman, partner at Simpson Millar Solicitors in London, said: "The court heard very detailed legal arguments, surrounding the Secretary of State's policy that he will not fund the procedure on the NHS because it would be unlawful if undertaken in Northern Ireland.
"This could pave the way for hundreds of women to access the service free of charge. But I recognise that's not easily achievable."
The Abortion Support Network (ASN), which provides financial help to women travelling to England for abortions, has also noted a steep increase in calls from the whole of Ireland.
Last year 552 women contacted the organisation, while in the first five months of 2015 they received 271 phone calls.
Pro-life group Precious Life believes the arrival of the Marie Stopes sexual health clinic in Belfast is behind the slight rise.
Director Bernie Smyth said: "But there's a lot more work to do than talk about whether abortion is right or wrong. It's about being there for those women and their babies."