LONDON, May 8, 2014 ( – A British judge has ruled that two laws subsidizing abortions for residents of England do not apply to residents of Northern Ireland, although nations are part of the United Kingdom.

In a lawsuit brought by a 15-year-old girl and her mother, abortion advocates argued that an undue burden was placed on women in Northern Ireland who want to get abortions in England. They said that since the UK includes Northern Ireland, the National Health Service (NHS) should provide them with free abortions, under the terms of laws passed in 1967 and 2006.

In October 2012, the girl and her mother, who remain unidentified, spent 900 British pounds (more than $1,500 U.S.) to get an abortion at a Marie Stopes facility. The mother told the High Court that “the whole experience and stress” of fundraising was “harrowing.”

“Had we known from the outset that we would be able to travel to the UK and that [the girl] could have the procedure free on the NHS, this would have significantly reduced the stress and trauma she experienced,” her mother said.


The judge analyzed her argument under a 2006 law that framed how medical and health care services are covered in England by the NHS. He concluded that the NHS' duties in England do not extend “to persons who are ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland,” except in cases of emergencies. In the decision, he said the 2006 Act would also not apply to other parts of the United Kingdom. The 1967 law, he ruled, applies to Wales, Scotland, and England, but not to Northern Ireland.

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While abortion advocates were outraged by the decision, Liam Gibson of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children praised it. “This decision had it gone the other way would certainly have led to more abortions taking place which would have been a bad thing for both women and children. It would also have had serious implications for the value of our devolved institutions,” he said.

The judge said that in 2011, more than 1,000 women from Northern Ireland had abortions in England, but only five were covered by the NHS.

Abortion is legal at private facilities in Northern Ireland, but only allowed in hospitals if the mother's life is in danger or she faces serious and permanent damage to her physical and mental health. Belfast's Department of Health reported that 51 abortions were done in Irish hospitals in 2013, an increase of 16 from 2012.

A report is expected to come from Northern Ireland's justice minister that could expand legal abortion to include rape, incest, and “fatal fetal abnormalities.”

The 1967 Abortion Act allows access to abortion up to 24 weeks after pregnancy begins, for reasons of mental and physical health of the mother, the same risks to the family's children, and abnormalities if a child could be “seriously handicapped.”

Abortions are allowed after 24 weeks if serious disabilities are present for the unborn child, or if a woman's life or health is seriously at risk.