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A judge has ruled that women from Northern Ireland can’t access free abortions in England

Northern Ireland vigil for a woman who died after being refused an abortion in Ireland
AP Photo/Peter Morrison
Northern Ireland vigil for a woman who died after being refused an abortion in the Republic of Ireland.
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Cassie writes about the world of work.

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

In 2012, when her 15-year-old daughter revealed an unwanted pregnancy, one Northern Irish mother took her and did what 800 other women from her country, and 3,600 from the Republic of Ireland, do each year: traveled to mainland Britain for a termination.

Under the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, abortion has been freely available in England, Wales, and Scotland since 1967. But in Northern Ireland, also a part of the UK, it is illegal. Last year, a court ruled that women from Northern Ireland are not legally entitled to free abortions on the NHS in England, and must pay for their own procedures.

The UK government in Westminster has steadily devolved more powers to the governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Those powers include many aspects of health policy, including the restrictions on abortion in Northern Ireland. The judge said that this devolutionary discretion needed to be taken into account when handing down his decision; though he also noted that “a steady stream” of pregnant Northern Irish women had been crossing to the mainland for abortions for years.

Yesterday, the mother and daughter lost a final court appeal, in which they argued that they should have been allowed access to the free service in the same way as fellow British citizens elsewhere in the country. In the end, the cost of their trip to have the procedure performed at a private clinic was estimated at around £900 ($1,400), according to the BBC. The vast majority of women from Northern Ireland pay for abortions in England privately.

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