Legal appeal to overturn restrictions on Northern Irish access to NHS abortions

31 October, 2016

The Supreme Court, London
The Supreme Court, London. Photo: Gary Knight.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has submitted an intervention supporting an appeal to the Supreme Court this week (Wednesday 2 November)  trying to overturn restrictions on access to NHS abortion services in England by Northern Irish women.

The BHA has long campaigned for full legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland and presented the court with evidence of the impact on women who face the limited choices of either unlawful and/or unsafe abortions or the financial stress and trauma involved in travelling to England for a legal abortion.

The current law in Northern Ireland means that lawful abortions are only available in rare, highly exceptional circumstances. Women are forced to travel to other parts of the UK to access NHS abortion services privately and have to pay hundreds of pounds.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal said, ‘Reproductive rights and health services are being denied to women in Northern Ireland as a result of the country’s anachronistic abortion laws and because Northern Irish women are refused access to NHS abortions in the rest of the UK. That a woman’s access to such basic health services should depend on an accident of geography is astonishing and continues to put women’s lives at risk.

‘Our government’s stance in refusing women from Northern Ireland a safe and legal abortion on the NHS is shameful and we believe it is a breach of human rights laws. The Supreme Court judges have an opportunity to rectify a situation which currently causes undue distress to hundreds of women and leads many more with no choice but to buy illegal abortion pills online.’

Coordinator for Northern Ireland Humanists, Boyd Sleator, said ‘We trust women to make decisions around their own reproductive health. Women need safe access to legal abortions now’. 


The legal challenge was brought by a young woman and her mother, known only as ‘A and B’. In 2012, when A was aged 15, she was pregnant and did not wish to continue the pregnancy, a choice supported by her mother. They were informed at a local hospital that the only way to have a termination would be to travel to England and have it privately. As they are from a low income family, securing the funds was difficult and only made possible with the assistance of a charity.  When the funds had been raised, A and B travelled to England.  The operation cost £600 on top of travel costs of £300.   The delay and uncertainty while they were attempting to raise the funds caused both women additional distress and anxiety.  A and B challenged the Secretary of State for Health’s policy of excluding provision as part of the NHS in England for women such as A who are resident in Northern Ireland and seek abortion services in England. The Court of Appeal rejected A and B’s appeal in July 2015 but the Supreme Court  granted them permission to appeal and the BHA along with Alliance for Choice, the Family Planning Association, Birthrights and the British Pregnancy Advice Service were given permission to intervene in the case. The appeal will be heard on 2 November.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on abortion:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethically 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.