The group of NGOs were interveners in the Supreme Court appeal of two women from Northern Ireland, known as A and B, who were challenging the decision not to provide abortions free of charge from NHS England for women from Northern Ireland.
The women narrowly lost their case in the Supreme Court and have announced that they will take their legal battle to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.
Law firm Leigh Day represented the NGOs - Alliance for Choice, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Birthrights, Family Planning Association and Abortion Support Network – in the case and will be applying for permission on behalf of their clients to intervene in the ECtHR appeal.
Woman A travelled to Manchester from Northern Ireland with her mother, B, in 2012 to seek an abortion. She underwent the termination at a private clinic at a cost of around £900. The women argued in their case that the failure of the Secretary of State for Health to provide the termination free of charge under NHS England was unlawful. Abortion is banned in all but extreme circumstances in Northern Ireland.
Through their legal team the NGOs made submissions to the Supreme Court focusing on the Government’s international legal obligations to provide women with appropriate pregnancy services - for free, where necessary- as well as the fundamental values of autonomy and equality, which underlie the UK’s legal system.
The Supreme Court ruled, by 3-2, that the Health Secretary was entitled to reach the decision not to provide terminations free of charge under NHS England to women from Northern Ireland.
In her dissenting judgment, Lady Hale praised the helpfulness of the NGOs’ intervention and remarked that: “The protection of dignity and autonomy is a core value underlying the rights guaranteed by article 8. The difference in treatment by the NHS in England between women from England and women from Northern Ireland cannot be justified by respect for the democratic decisions made in Northern Ireland as to what will be provided by the NHS there.”
The NGOs were represented by law firm Leigh Day, Helen Mountfield QC of Matrix Chambers and Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers.