Update: Northern Ireland, Judicial Review of Abortion Policy
It has been a tough few weeks for the Government, as they have seen numerous policies being stripped down, scrutinised and branded as 'unlawful' by the Supreme Court. Even with their apparent victories, issues have arisen from those cases and have resulted in changes in policy.
Following my previous post on the Supreme Court's decision to reject an attempt to use judicial review as a means to challenge a policy by the Health Secretary, it seems that the much anticipated aftermath has come very swiftly. As you may recall, the policy under the spotlight in that case was the fact that women from Northern Ireland were not entitled to obtain an abortion for free via the NHS. In that article, I explored the reasoning of the Court in that matter, the arguments of both sides and what the future may hold.
It was announced on Thursday 29th June that the Government would change its stance on the matter. This follows the news that over 50 MPs, from a spectrum of the major parties have backed a Labour-led (particularly by Stella Creasy) call for Northern Irish women to have access to NHS abortions in England for free, as opposed to having to pay privately. Being in a precarious position to say the least, and with the risk of even Conservative MPs turning on her, Theresa May has been somewhat backed into a corner. The matter was selected as a topic to be included within the debate portion of the Queen's Speech, and saw the Cabinet make a massive "U-turn".Of course, this raised issues for those Conservative MPs who sympathised with the amendment. Many would have been unwilling to vote for an opposition Queen’s speech amendment, which in itself would signal that there was no confidence in the government at that moment.
The result has been hailed as a "landmark moment: for years the women of Northern Ireland, despite being UK citizens and taxpayers, have not been entitled to NHS-funded treatment" by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
This debate has partly resulted from the news that those seeking the judicial review had made it public knowledge that the matter would be taken to Strasbourg. With a divided Supreme Court at a domestic level, it would seem that the Government did not want to risk their luck by being embarrassed on an international stage. This change in policy would suggest that the current trajectory of the claimants in that case will not continue.
Overall, it is clear that women in Northern Ireland do not have to worry about excessive medical bills when seeking an abortion, nor do they have to resort to using illegal medication which can be purchased online. Such medication, which is taken with out medical supervision, can result in a number of complications. It should be noted, however, that the Supreme Court have ruled any decision on Abortion Law lies with the Northern Ireland Assembly. Whilst opinions in the region are slowly changing, it is unlikely that any statutory reform within the area of Abortion Law will come any time soon.