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Plea for Northern Irish women to receive free NHS abortions in England

Plea for Northern Irish women to receive free NHS abortions in England

A mother and daughter who lost a legal bid for women from Northern Ireland to receive free abortions on the NHS in England have urged a government minister to intervene.

The Health Secretary has the statutory power to ensure women from Northern Ireland have access to free terminations in England.

Following their recent defeat in the UK's highest court the women's legal team has now written to the Health Secretary asking him to exercise that power.

Their lawyer said it would be "right, humane and appropriate" to ensure the services are available on the NHS in England "without delay."

In the letter the women's solicitor Simpson Millar asks the Health Secretary to take note of the Supreme Court's "sympathetic" judgment to them.

"We write to urge the (Health Secretary) to consider exercising his statutory power as described by the Supreme Court to ensure that women from Northern Ireland can access abortion services in England on the NHS," said Mr Millar.

He added: "The plight of women from Northern Ireland seeking abortion services in England is such that it would be right, humane and appropriate to take the necessary steps to introduce regulations and directions to ensure that these services are available on the NHS in England without delay."

The Health Secretary has been asked to respond to the request within 14 days.

Recently the Supreme Court rejected the women's case against the Health Secretary by a majority of just three to two.

The justices said they were "sharply divided" over what the outcome of the case should be with the court's deputy president Lady Hale being one of the two who ruled in favour of the mother and daughter.

The 20-year-old woman at the centre of the appeal was 15 in October 2012 when she and her mother travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester and were told she had to pay hundreds of pounds for a private termination because she was excluded from free abortion services.

The daughter, who can only be referred to as A, and her mother B, previously suffered defeat at the High Court in London in 2014 and at the Court of Appeal the following year.

In Northern Ireland a termination is lawful when its continuation would threaten the woman's life, or when it would probably affect her physical or mental health, but only if the effect would be serious and, in particular, permanent or long-term.

Each year, at least 1,000 women travel to England for a termination at a private clinic, often paying up to £1,000, and sometimes as much as £2,000.

The mother and daughter had sought a declaration that it was unlawful for the Health Secretary to have failed to make provision for A and all other UK citizens usually resident in Northern Ireland to undergo a termination under the NHS in England free of charge.