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Northern Ireland woman takes fight for NHS-funded abortion care to Supreme Court

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 02/11/2016

Backing: BPAS chief Ann Furedi
Backing: BPAS chief Ann Furedi
Rebecca Schiller of Birthrights

An appeal to grant Northern Ireland women NHS-funded abortion care in England will be heard by the Supreme Court today.

The case was brought by a young woman and her mother from Northern Ireland but it was unsuccessful at the High Court and the Court of Appeal. They were then given permission to appeal at the Supreme Court.

When the young woman was 15 years old, she and her mother had to travel to Manchester in order to terminate her pregnancy in 2012. The treatment cost £900 and in 2014, the mother and daughter brought a case that the treatment should have been funded by the NHS.

The mother and daughter will be supported by several charities, including Alliance for Choice, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Birthrights, the Family Planning Association (FPA) and the Abortion Support Network.

They will be arguing that the ban on NHS-funded abortions violates Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which cover the right to private and family life as well as the right to not be discriminated against.

Because abortions are illegal in Northern Ireland except under exceptional circumstances, women have to travel to other parts of the UK for procedures.

They are also ineligible for NHS-financed abortion treatments in England, so have to pay for private procedures as well as their travel costs and other associated costs. These private procedures can cost up to £2,000. Ann Furedi, bpas chief executive, said until women are legally allowed abortions at home in Northern Ireland, they should be allowed to have NHS-funded care in England.

"It is simply unjust that women from Northern Ireland are forced to pay for healthcare that is provided free of charge to women resident in all other parts of the UK."

The costs of travelling to England and receiving private care can be too expensive for some women, so Ms Furedi said these women end up purchasing abortion pills illegally online and "risk criminal punishment".

FPA chief executive Natika H Halil said the current laws in Northern Ireland regarding abortion were a "failure to women's reproductive health".

"It's a disgrace that women are still forced to travel, and this injustice is only compounded by the high cost of private procedures that women from Northern Ireland have to pay."

Ms Halil added: "Women who have used early medical abortion pills bought online have been criminally prosecuted, which is effectively a punishment for not having financial means or resources to travel to England."

Rebecca Schiller, CEO of Birthrights, said she hopes the outcome of the appeal will be the "beginning of Northern Irish women's human rights being upheld". "It is unacceptable that women must choose between keeping an unwanted pregnancy, risk prosecution by buying illegal abortion pills or spend significant sums to travel to England."

In 2015, 833 women travelled to England and Wales for abortion treatments, according to Department of Health statistics.

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