Judge rules against free abortions for Northern Ireland residents

UK government rules that prevent women from Northern Ireland receiving free abortions on the NHS in England have been upheld by the British High Court.

A test case was brought by a girl, referred to as “A”, unable to access services free of charge.

The law on abortion is stricter in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales, where the 1967 Abortion Act liberalised the position.

In Northern Ireland, termination of pregnancies generally remains unlawful unless carried out to preserve the life of the mother.

Mr Justice King, handing down judgment at London’s High Court, said the differences in the legal position had “not surprisingly led to a steady stream” of pregnant women from Northern Ireland to England to access abortion services not available to them at home.

But he ruled that the British Health Secretary’s duty to promote a comprehensive health service in England “is a duty in relation to the physical and mental health of the people of England”, and that duty did not extend “to persons who are ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland”.

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