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British court rejects bid for free abortions for Northern Ireland women

Category: Gender in the world 
2017-06-15

Britain's highest court on Wednesday narrowly rejected an appeal by a mother and daughter in their legal battle for women from Northern Ireland to receive free abortions in England.

 

The Supreme Court ruled on whether it was unlawful for the National Health Service (NHS) in England to deny free terminations to women from Northern Ireland where abortion laws are much stricter than in the rest of the United Kingdom.

 

While the NHS provides free abortions to women in most of the United Kingdom, abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her health.

 

The appeal was brought by a woman from Northern Ireland who was 15 when she became pregnant and her mother, who travelled to Manchester in England and paid 900 pounds ($1,145) for an abortion.

 

The appeal was rejected by three judges while two supported the challenge.

 

Women's rights groups, some of which gave evidence in the case, expressed disappointment at the verdict and said the judgment showed the emotional and financial hardship women in Northern Ireland faced because of the current rules.

 

"The provision of free access to abortion services for all UK citizens would be a small change that would make a real difference to women who may otherwise struggle to afford the cost of private treatment," Ruairi Rowan, senior advocacy officer in Northern Ireland at the Family Planning Association charity, said.

 

As a result of the verdict, women without money "can continue unwanted or non-viable pregnancies, risk prosecution by taking safe but illegal early medical abortion pills sourced online, or do more dangerous things in attempt to self-harm," Mara Clarke, director of the Abortion Support Network, which helps women fund abortions in England, said in a statement.

 

Political parties in Northern Ireland are divided on abortion.

 

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is in talks with Prime Minister Theresa May to support her minority government, is among the most socially conservative in Europe and has consistently opposed widespread access to abortion.

 

Women's rights groups estimate that around 1,000 women travel to Britain each year for terminations, which they must finance themselves along with travel and other costs.

 

Clinics in England charge around 600 pounds to terminate pregnancies of less than 14 weeks and up to 2,000 pounds for more advanced pregnancies, court documents showed.

 

 

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