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Northern Irish women not entitled to free abortions in England, Supreme Court rules


Women in Northern Ireland are not entitled to free abortions on the National Health Service in England, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The UK’s highest court rejected an appeal from a woman who went to England with her daughter for an abortion at a private clinic in 2012, at a cost of £900.

They had argued the UK health secretary had the power to make provisions for Northern Irish residents to access free abortions on the NHS, and it was unlawful that he had not done so.

However, judges threw out the case by a majority of three to two.

Delivering the verdict, Lord Wilson said the court was not charged with addressing “the ethical considerations which underlie the difference” between abortion laws in England and Northern Ireland.

However, he criticised Northern Ireland’s stronger abortion laws, saying they put women in a “deeply unenviable position”, and that they face “embarrassment, difficulty, and uncertainty” in their “urgent need to raise the necessary funds” to travel to England to abort their babies.

Lord Reed and Lord Hughes joined Lord Wilson in ruling against the appeal, but Lady Hale and Lord Kerr dissented.

The Labour Party had proposed changing Northern Ireland’s abortion laws in its draft manifesto, but rowed back slightly in the final version.

Now that the mainly pro-life Democratic Unionist Party looks set to prop up the minority Conservative government, it looks unlikely UK politicians will force a change in the law on Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future.