May 9, 2014 — England's High Court has ruled that residents of Northern Ireland are not entitled to the abortion coverage afforded to other U.K. residents through the National Health Service, BBC News reports.
According to BBC News, under the 1967 Abortion Act, abortion is legal for residents of England, Wales and Scotland through 24 weeks of gestation in instances of physical or mental health risks to the woman or children in the family, as well serious fetal anomalies. Abortions are permitted after 24 weeks if the woman's life or health is in serious danger, or for major disabilities (BBC News, 5/8).
However, Northern Ireland did not adopt the Abortion Act (Dearden, London Independent, 5/8). Under Northern Ireland's laws, abortion is a criminal offense unless the procedure is needed to save a woman's life or if there is a severe risk to her permanent mental or physical health.
According to BBC News, more than 1,000 women annually travel from Northern Ireland to other parts of the U.K. to obtain abortion care (BBC News, 5/8).
The case before the High Court involves a 15-year-old girl and her mother, who traveled from Northern Ireland to England so the girl could obtain an abortion. They argued that the procedure should have been covered under the 1967 Abortion Act because they are U.K. residents. They said that the lack of coverage caused significant "stress and trauma" (London Independent, 5/8).
The judge said that while the differences in abortion coverage "not surprisingly led to a steady stream" of women from Northern Ireland traveling to England to obtain abortion care, NHS' responsibility to promote comprehensive health services in England does not extend "to persons who are ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland."
The judge said that the matter is not an issue of discrimination because Northern Ireland is not covered under the 1967 Abortion Act (BBC News, 5/8). He said that NHS was established to reflect the "separation of powers between the health services in the four jurisdictions in the UK" (London Independent, 5/8).
Angela Jackman, who represented the mother and daughter, said she intends to appeal the case (BBC News, 5/8).