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Northern Ireland Woman Takes NHS To Court Over Abortion

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A teenager from Northern Ireland who had to go to England to get a pregnancy terminated when she was 15 years old is taking the National Health Service to court over its refusal to pay for abortions for women from the country.

The NHS has refused to fund abortions for women from Northern Ireland who travel to England, The Guardian reports.

The girl, identified only as “A,” and her mother, “B” are appealing to the Supreme Court to mandate the health service to fund abortions. The family’s lawyers called the refusal to finance Northern Irish women who need help with unwanted pregnancies “perverse and unlawful.”

Abortion in Northern Ireland is only allowed in hospitals when the mother’s life is endangered if the pregnancy continues. Otherwise, it is illegal.

In November 2015, a high court judge rules that the region’s abortion laws violate the rights of women in cases such as fetal abnormalities or pregnancies caused by sex crimes.

Some 2,000 women make the trip to hospitals and clinics from Northern Ireland to England to have terminations. All of them have to raise money to do so.

Northern Ireland’s assembly has a strong opposition to easing the province’s strict anti-abortion laws. The 1967 Abortion Act did not extend to Northern Ireland, and a proposal to liberalize the laws was rejected earlier this year.

The mother and daughter received financial aid from the Abortion Support Network, without which they could not have had the procedure done. They have since argued in the high court and court of appeal that the costs should have been free, as they are citizens of the United Kingdom. They claim that Jeremy Hunt, the state secretary for health, has failed in his duty to make NHS treatments accessible.

The supreme court has recently allowed six national charities to intervene on the behalf of A and B. Angela Jackman of the law firm Simpson Millar has been representing the family. She says, “For women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant and seek a termination, the status quo is almost unbearable. I believe the legal arguments of the secretary of State are perverse and contrary to its international obligations. Many women face the choice between an unlawful termination using dangerous and illegal pills, with the prospect of prosecution to follow, or a costly journey to England where they must pay privately for an abortion. For many women, those costs are prohibitive.”

The arguments on the case of A and B versus Hunt will be heard by five judges in a one-day hearing.

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