Northern Irish women blocked from receiving free abortions in England
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The Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, has today ruled that anyone from Northern Ireland seeking an abortion on the NHS in England will not be entitled to this service. In 2012, a 15 year-old young woman from Northern Ireland travelled to England with her mother to get an abortion and was forced to pay around £900 for the procedure in a private clinic. They launched an appeal against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, which came before the Supreme Court last year, arguing it was unlawful he would not allow residents of Northern Ireland to access free abortions on the NHS in England. In Northern Ireland, abortions are only allowed if a woman’s life is deemed to be at severe risk, which does not include cases of rape, incest or danger to the foetus, and if the woman is under 9 weeks pregnant. However, residents of England, Scotland and Wales are protected under the 1967 Abortion Act and can access a free abortion if they are up to 24 weeks pregnant. In March, Parliament passed a bill in its first reading to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales. This means there is an extreme disparity between all the other countries in the UK and Northern Ireland, where women are forced to choose between delivering a baby they may not want or be capable of having, for example as a result of traumatising assault, or paying a large amount of money for both flights to England and the costs of a private abortion procedure. This is a landmark case and was ruled against by a majority of 3-2, with Supreme Court Justice Lord Wilson stating that allowing the appeal to pass would complicate issues of devolution and cause “a substantial level of health tourism into England”. This is a devastating blow for Northern Irish women, especially at a time when the Conservatives are making deals with the anti-abortion DUP.
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