The Supreme Court has narrowly rejected an appeal by a mother and daughter in their legal battle for women in Northern Ireland to receive free abortions on the National Health Service (NHS) in England.
The three judges who rejected the case argued for the need to “afford respect to the democratic decision of the people of Northern Ireland”.
The 20-year-old woman at the centre of the appeal was 15 when she became pregnant in 2012. Unable to access abortion services in Northern Ireland, she travelled to Manchester with her mother, and used the services of a private clinic, because she was excluded from free abortion services.
The family were only able to afford treatment – costing £900 including travel - with financial support from the charity Abortion Support Network.
Announcing the Supreme Court's decision, Lord Wilson said the court was not charged with addressing “the ethical considerations which underlie the difference” between abortion laws in England and Northern Ireland. He added that the justices had been “sharply divided” about the outcome.
The Court's deputy president Lady Hale and Lord Kerr said they would have allowed the latest appeal, because “the policy is incompatible with the Convention rights of women from Northern Ireland.”
However, Lord Wilson, Lord Reed and Lord Hughes said these views "command considerable respect", but dismissed the appeal saying they must respect Northern Ireland's laws. They also noted that allowing the ruling would contribute to “a substantial level of health tourism into England from within the UK and from abroad,” burdening the NHS.
The mother and daughter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, originally lost their action in London's High Court in May 2014 when a judge ruled that the exclusion was lawful, and suffered a second defeat at the Court of Appeal in 2015.
They announced today that they would take their case to Europe.
“We have come this far and fought hard because the issues are so important for women in Northern Ireland,” they said in a statement.
More than 724 women travelled from Northern Ireland to England for abortions in 2016, according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas).
Political parties in Northern Ireland are divided on abortion.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is in talks with Prime Minister Theresa May to support her minority government, has consistently opposed widespread access to abortion.