Teenager and mother take free abortion battle to Supreme Court
Published 23/12/2015 | 17:47
A teenager and her mother who are fighting for women from Northern Ireland to receive free abortions on the NHS in England are to have their case heard at the UK's highest court.
Supreme Court justices are to hear their challenge against a Court of Appeal ruling earlier this year which went against them.
After their case was rejected by three judges in London in July they vowed to continue their "landmark" legal battle. Their lawyer announced at the time that they did "not intend to give up".
The Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that the court has granted them permission to appeal.
During the Court of Appeal proceedings, Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Lord Justice Elias and Lord Justice McCombe heard that the case was of considerable importance as an estimated 2,000 women and girls from Northern Ireland - where abortion is illegal apart from in exceptional circumstances - come to England for terminations every year.
The 18-year-old applicant in the case was aged 15 when she made the journey 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 challenged a decision made by Mr Justice King at the High Court in May last year that the exclusion was lawful.
The case was brought by A and her mother, referred to as B, who travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester for A's abortion.
When the case was before the High Court, Mr Justice King ruled that the Health Secretary was entitled to adopt a residence-based system so that women resident in Northern Ireland are not entitled to benefit from NHS abortion services in England, even though they are UK citizens.
He declared A had no right under Article 8 (right to privacy and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights to a state-funded abortion, and there was no breach of anti-discrimination laws under Article 14.
The appeal judges heard from Stephen Cragg QC, for the teenager and her mother, that the situation was causing desperation and stress for women and girls.
Lawful abortions were only available in rare, highly exceptional circumstances in Northern Ireland, which did not include, for example, rape, incest or foetal abnormality.
The case was backed by the Alliance For Choice organisation, which campaigns to extend legal abortion in Northern Ireland.
Lord Justice Elias, announcing the Court of Appeal's decision, said: "There was nothing irrational in the approach of the Secretary of State. It is entirely logical to provide a range of NHS services throughout the UK on the basis of local residence requirements.''
He added that it ''could not conceivably be said that the Secretary of State is obliged to exercise his discretion so as to extend free abortion services to such women''.
He said: ''It is not irrational to take the view that English taxpayers should not have to bear the cost of providing abortion services to women from Northern Ireland.''
The fact that Northern Ireland ''does not provide these services because it still considers that abortion should, in most circumstances, be illegal does not compel the Secretary of State to take a different approach to women from that area''.
Lord Justice Elias said: ''It cannot be irrational for the Secretary of State, with responsibility for the health service in England, to consider that it is not his duty to seek to remedy what some might consider to be the harsh consequences of the law adopted by the devolved legislature in Northern Ireland.''
A date has yet to be fixed for the Supreme Court hearing.