BHA condemns High Court decision to ban Northern Irish women receiving abortions on the NHS in England

8 May, 2014

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today criticised a judgment made by the High Court in London which has found that women in Northern Ireland are not entitled to receive free abortion care from NHS England. It has called on lawmakers to harmonise the law so that all women in the United Kingdom have access to sexual and reproductive health services and choice over their bodies.

The UK National Health Service is composed of four different bodies, for which there is devolved responsibility in each of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the law permits women to have abortions only in life or death circumstances, or if there is a risk to the woman’s permanent physical or mental health, meaning many women travel to England in order to carry out termination procedures safely. The BHA has long campaigned for women’s sexual and reproductive rights not just in the UK, but across Europe, alongside its partner the European Humanist Federation (EHF).

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘It is shocking that in this country, in the 21st century, many women still do not have a say over their bodies. While we acknowledge that the court was commenting solely on the proper interpretation of devolved legislation, this latest decision by the High Court in England will undoubtedly put the lives of many women in Northern Ireland at risk by denying them access to safe medical procedures in order to terminate unwanted pregnancies. We call upon the Northern Irish Assembly and lawmakers in London with renewed urgency to look again at the law in this area, and as a matter of priority, work towards ensuring basic reproductive rights for all women in the UK.’

Commenting on the situation in Europe, Ms Dhaliwal continued, ‘At the moment in Europe, women are facing concerted efforts from extremist religious groups to deny them basic sexual and reproductive rights. Last December, the Estrela Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health, which recommended access to sex education, contraception, and safe abortion, was blocked in the European Parliament by such lobbies. And just last month, an horrific European Citizen’s Initiative launched by the ‘One of Us’ campaign aimed to cut off funding for ‘abortion-related services’ in low- and middle-income countries. In the context of these wider assaults on women’s liberties, which could lead to profound loss of life across our continent, we must ensure that in our own country we provide these basic rights to our citizens.’

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs and EHF Vice Chair, at or on 0773 843 5059.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.