Judge upholds abortion rule for NI women

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Government rules that prevent women from Northern Ireland receiving free abortions on the NHS in England have been upheld by the High Court in London.

A test case was brought by a girl, referred to as “A”, who was unable to access services free of charge.

The law on abortion is stricter in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales, where the 1967 Abortion Act liberalised the position.

In Northern Ireland, termination of pregnancies generally remains unlawful unless carried out to preserve the life of the mother.

Mr Justice King, handing down judgment at London’s High Court, said the differences in the legal position had “not surprisingly led to a steady stream” of pregnant women from Northern Ireland to England to access abortion services not available to them at home.

He ruled that the Health Secretary’s duty to promote a comprehensive health service in England “is a duty in relation to the physical and mental health of the people of England”, and that duty did not extend “to persons who are ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland”.

The judge said the lack of abortion services in Northern Ireland was “a consequence of the devolution of powers and duties (within the UK) not only in relation to health care... but in relation to criminal law”.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the ruling was a signal that the time had come for the women of Northern Ireland to be entitled to get the care they needed “at home”.

“Outlawing abortion does not prevent women having abortions, it simply increases the physical, financial and emotional burden of obtaining the care they need,” she said,

“If women from Northern Ireland cannot get NHS-funded abortion care in England, then surely the time has come to ensure they can get that care at home.”

Bernie Smyth from Precious Life, a pro-life group, said she thought the ruling “was a great day for democracy in Northern Ireland and for the unborn child”.

“It is important that women continue to be protected here,” she said. “There are women who choose to travel to have abortions, but here the law protects the unborn child and will continue to protect the unborn child.”