European court orders UK government to reimburse mother and daughter forced to travel to England for abortion

The building of the European court of human rights issued a written decision on Thursday. Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters

The building of the European court of human rights issued a written decision on Thursday. Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters

A mother and daughter from Northern Ireland who were forced to travel to England for an abortion are to be compensated by the government over their costs.

The European court of human rights has instructed the government to reimburse the women for the cost of travel and the termination at a private English clinic seven years ago.

Known only as A and B, the pair began legal proceedings after they were forced to raise £900 to make the trip for A to have the termination.

Northern Ireland was up until recently the only part of the UK where abortion was illegal except in extreme circumstances, such as a direct threat to a mother’s life.

In July the Labour MP Stella Creasy introduced legislation through the House of Commons that will ensure regulations for free, legal and local abortion services in Northern Ireland by 31 March 2020.

In their battle for compensation A and B pursued an application to the European court of human rights, claiming that forcing them to pay for a termination in England breached their rights to a private life under article 8 of the Human Rights Act and article 14 in terms of discrimination.

As a result of a written decision by the ECHR published on Thursday the pair will not only receive the full costs of the treatment and travel but also their legal costs in the case.

Angela Jackman, a partner at A and B’s lawyers, Simpson Millar, said: “A and B’s application to the European court has finally resolved through a friendly settlement between the parties. Terms include payment of compensation by the UK government to A and B, and a contribution towards their legal costs.

“This is a very important case, which proved instrumental in raising widespread awareness of the discrepancy in access to NHS-funded abortion services for women in Northern Ireland.”

Jackman, who is also senior law lecturer at the City Law School, added: “A and B’s tenacity in pursuing litigation for over six years is deeply commendable and they have appreciated the consistent support they received throughout.

“Of course, they are relieved that after almost seven years they are finally able to have closure on these difficult issues. “

Emma Campbell, the co-convenor of the Northern Ireland-based Alliance For Choice campaign group welcomed the decision to compensate the two women.

She said compensation should be followed by a “general state apology” to the thousands of women in the same predicament as A and B over decades in Northern Ireland.

On whether more Northern Irish women might now come forward seeking compensation as well for being forced to travel to England for private non-NHS terminations, Campbell said: “A and B went through a long hard battle in the courts but if other women did come forward looking for compensation then we would put them in direct contact with the proper legal representation.”

A and B were only able to afford the treatment and travel costs due to the extra financial support of the charity Abortion Support Network.