Supreme Court to hear ‘landmark’ abortion case today

Avatar photo

By Katie King on

Legal dream team assembled to argue Northern Irish women’s right to travel to England for free terminations


The highest court in the country will consider today whether women living in Northern Ireland are entitled to abortions on the NHS in England.

This landmark judicial review case has been brought to the Supreme Court by a young Northern Irish woman (known as A) through her mother and litigation friend (known as B).

In 2012, A — who was 15-years-old at the time — fell pregnant, but was unable to obtain a termination in her home country because of its stringent anti-abortion laws. The Abortion Act 1967, s1 of which lays down the mechanism for a legal abortion, does not apply in Northern Ireland, meaning women can only legally access the procedure if her health is at serious risk. Women who have been raped cannot access abortions legally, nor can victims of incest or women carrying foetuses with fatal abnormalities.

The appellant did manage to terminate her pregnancy by travelling to a private clinic in England at the cost of £900, but has now brought a judicial review against the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, on two grounds.

Lawyers for A, Monckton Chambers’ Stephen Cragg QC and Doughty Street’s Caoilfhionn Gallagher, will be arguing the case on two grounds.

Firstly, they will tell the five-judge bench that the respondent failed to discharge his duty under s3 of the National Health Service Act 2006 by not requiring abortion services to be provided to Northern Irish women in England. Hunt is under a s3 duty to “take such steps as he considers necessary to meet all reasonable requirements” for NHS services.

Secondly, Cragg and Gallagher will submit that failing to provide abortion services for free in England to women resident in Northern Ireland amounts to an infringement of article 8 (family life) and article 14 (no discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

11KBW’s Jason Coppel QC and Katherine Eddy will be defending the government this afternoon. It’s also worth noting there are five interveners in the case — including the Family Planning Association and Alliance for Choice — who will be represented by Helen Mountfield QC and Jude Bunting. The sixth intervener, the British Humanist Association, will be represented by Heather Williams QC and Kate Beattie.

Though the judicial review has been unsuccessful both at first instance and in the Court of Appeal, Gallagher — for the claimant — has stressed this is:

[A] landmark case of significant importance to the over 1,000 women who travel from Northern Ireland to England every year for privately funded abortions.

The case is listed for one day and will be heard by Lady Hale, Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson, Lord Reed and Lord Hughes. You can watch the hearing through the Supreme Court’s livestreaming service.