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UK Supreme Court rejects appeal to allow Irish women to get free abortions in England

(Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne)Demonstrators take part in a protest to urge the Irish Government to repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution, which enforces strict limitations on abortion, in Dublin, Ireland September 24, 2016.

The U.K. Supreme Court has ruled that the National Health Service (NHS) in England must not be compelled to pay for the abortions of women from Northern Ireland, where the procedure is currently banned.

According to The Guardian, a panel of Supreme Court judges narrowly voted to uphold a previous ruling, which stated that women who travel to England from Northern Ireland are not entitled to free abortions on the NHS.

NHS is not allowed to pay for abortions for women from the region because of its policy of not funding medical services in England that would be illegal if received in Northern Ireland.

The legal challenge to the policy was brought by a Northern Ireland woman who took her daughter to England for an abortion in 2012. The daughter, who was 15-years-old, at the time, got an abortion from a private clinic at the cost of £900 (US$ 1,148) including travel. The family was only able to pay for the amount with some financial help from the charity Abortion Support Network.

The woman claimed that the policy was discriminatory and violated her daughter's human rights because the Abortion Act does not apply to Northern Ireland.

The judges, however, voted 3–2 to dismiss the case in agreement with lower courts that stated that the policy did not amount to unlawful discrimination and was not a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Despite the ruling, the woman and the daughter were encouraged by the fact that two of the judges on the panel were sympathetic to their situation. They expressed their plans to take the case to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, in an attempt "to protect the human rights of the many other women who make the lonely journey to England every week because they are denied access to basic healthcare services in their own country."

Liam Gibson, Northern Ireland development officer for Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, stated that the case had no basis in terms of human rights and should be seen instead as a "cynical attempt by the British abortion industry to get around Northern Ireland's legal protection for children before birth."

"This case was solely about money and who pays for abortion. Had the verdict gone the other way it would have led to the deaths of even more children and meant countless more women would have suffered the emotional and physical aftermath of abortion," Gibson said.

Statistics released by the Department of Health on Tuesday revealed that 724 women from Northern Ireland went to England for an abortion last year. The women pay between £400 (US$510) and £2,000 (US$2,553) to have the procedure performed privately because of the NHS policy that prohibits the funding of abortions for women from the region.

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