Northern Ireland news

European court to raise north's abortion laws with British government

In Northern Ireland, abortion is only permitted if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health
Michael McHugh, Press Association

The European Court of Human Rights is to raise abortion for women from Northern Ireland with the British government, lawyers have said.

A termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a danger of permanent and serious damage to her physical and mental health. The 1967 Abortion Act, which governs the rest of the UK, was not extended to the north.

Lawyers acting on behalf of a mother and daughter, known only as A and B, issued legal proceedings against the English Secretary of State for Health six years ago after they were forced to raise £900 to travel to Manchester for B to be treated at a private clinic.

Since then, the British government has said women from Northern Ireland can access the procedure in England on the NHS.

Angela Jackman, from Simpson Millar, said: "Both A and B are delighted that their case is progressing through the European Court of Human Rights, which has now formally communicated their claim to the UK government - setting them on a path for meaningful engagement with their claim by the British government.

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"They have always been determined clients who want to hold the UK government to account for its historically unfair treatment of women from Northern Ireland seeking abortion services in England.

"There are currently several initiatives being taken to improve reproductive rights in Northern Ireland, but none of these are set in stone; it is long past time for the government to apologise to A and B for what they have been through and to commit to lasting change for all women in Northern Ireland."

A and B were only able to afford the treatment and travel costs thanks to financial support from the charity Abortion Support Network.

The High Court ruled in 2014 that women from Northern Ireland were not legally entitled to free abortions on the NHS in England, and in 2017 the case was heard on appeal by the UK Supreme Court but was narrowly rejected.

Within weeks of the Supreme Court ruling, the British government agreed to introduce a scheme to allow women from Northern Ireland to access abortion services free of charge in England.

However, A and B are concerned since they said there was no guarantee the scheme will remain in place.

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