The Supreme Court has narrowly rejected an appeal demanding that women in Northern Ireland should receive free abortion services on the NHS in England.
A woman and her mother, known as A and B, had brought the Supreme Court appeal. The court rejected it by three to two. A and B could now take the case to the Court of Human Rights.
The daughter, A, was 15 in October 2012 when she travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester to access an abortion. She was refused free treatment on the NHS and ordered to pay hundreds of pounds for a private termination.
Abortion figures released yesterday, Tuesday, showed that 724 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England or Wales to have an abortion in 2016. Many more are unable to do so because of the cost.
Laura Russell is from the Family Planning Association charity. She told Socialist Worker, “We are disappointed that we didn’t get the verdict that would have benefited women from Northern Ireland.
“But Lord Wilson recognised the difficulties that women travelling from Northern Ireland face. And Lady Hale especially referenced how hard-won the right to bodily autonomy is and how it should be upheld and protected.”
A judge in May 2014 ruled that excluding the women from Northern Ireland from accessing NHS services was lawful – even though they are UK citizens.
Laura stressed that the judgement does not rule out positive changes in the future. And she urged people to put pressure on MPs as the Tories look to the DUP to help them cling on to office.
“Although the judgement didn’t find that Jeremy Hunt has to have a legal duty to provide these services, it doesn’t mean that he couldn’t change policy,” said Laura.
“As the government looks to do a deal with the DUP there’s rightly been light shone on decisions it has made in Northern Ireland’s government.
“People should write to their MPs to say that any deal with the DUP should not undermine any rights that women have in Britain. And it shouldn’t form a block to extending abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland.”
Belfast High Court ruled in November 2015 that Northern Ireland’s abortion law breaches fundamental human rights.
Abortion is only legal there if a woman’s life is in danger or if there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.
In practice, the law makes doctors wary of performing abortions in all circumstances.
“We’ve had the 1967 Act for 50 years,” said Laura. “But women in NI haven’t had the same rights.”
Activists have called a protest against the DUP on Saturday 24 June in central London. It’s crucial that ordinary people mobilise to defend and extend abortion rights.