Published Thursday, 08 May 2014
Abortions laws remain stricter in Northern Ireland than in England. (© UTV)
A legal challenge had been brought, involving a test case where a girl known only as 'A' was unable to access services free of charge.
Abortion laws in Northern Ireland are much stricter than in England, with terminations generally only allowed if the mother's life is at serious risk.
The presiding judge, Mr Justice King, said that the legal differences had "not surprisingly, led to a steady stream" of pregnant women from Northern Ireland travelling to England to access services.
Last year, 51 terminations of pregnancy were carried out in hospitals across Northern Ireland, but it is estimated that more than 1,000 women a year travel to England for abortions.
Those doing so must pay for the service, plus any travel and accommodation expenses.
But on Thursday, the judge ruled that the UK Health Secretary's duty "is a duty in relation to the physical and mental health of the people of England" and that it did not extend to those who "ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland".
I feel my daughter has been treated most unfairly because, when she required treatment in another part of the United Kingdom, she did not get it and was offered no assistance by the state health care system.
Mother of 'Girl A'
The girl at the centre of the test case was 15 when she travelled to Manchester for an abortion at a Marie Stopes clinic, having been denied a termination by medical authorities in Northern Ireland.
Her mother, who travelled with her and who helped her to bring the legal challenge, said the whole situation had been "harrowing", causing "stress and trauma" to her daughter.
She believed that the girl had been treated unfairly because they had sought legal advice in England and had believed that publicly-funded health care services were "intended to be free at the point of use for all UK residents".
However, Mr Justice King said they had misunderstood the legal position.
He outlined that non-emergency services were not provided on the NHS in England to people not ordinarily resident there and that the residence-based system reflected devolved powers.
Dawn Purvis, Director of Marie Stopes Northern Ireland, expressed disappointment at the ruling.
"We are hugely disappointed that the women of Northern Ireland, who are citizens of the UK, remain unable to access the same services from the NHS as their mainland counterparts," she said.
"The added layer of stress involved in finding the money to travel and pay for treatment can be crippling, making an already difficult situation for a woman that much tougher."
Commenting on the news on Facebook, pro-life group Precious Life said: "Precious Life welcomes this good news that taxpayers' money cannot be used to destroy our unborn babies."
© UTV News