A v Secretary of State for Health – The NHS, Devolution and Human Rights

Each year, at least 1000 young women, but perhaps as many as twice that number, travel from Northern Ireland to another part of the United Kingdom in search of an abortion. They do so to avoid the criminal liability that (in most cases) still attaches to terminations of pregnancy in Northern Ireland, and to rely instead on the more liberal legal regime prevailing in England, Scotland and Wales.

Should they be entitled to obtain abortions free on the National Health Service?

The answer to this question, which was considered by the Court of Appeal in A (a child) v Secretary of State for Health, reveals the full extent to which, under the UK’s devolution settlement, the disaggregation of the NHS into four discrete health services – one for each of the four constituent territories* of the United Kingdom – is now legally entrenched. By implication, it also asks important questions about the effect of future devolution within England.

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