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Abortion Needs or Abortion Rights? Claiming State Accountability for Women’s Reproductive Welfare

Family Planning Association of Northern Ireland v. Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety


The Family Planning Association Northern Ireland (F.P.A.N.I.) has recently been successful in holding the state accountable for its duty to safeguard women’s reproductive health and welfare, and clarify the circumstances in which abortion is lawful. By demanding that the Minister for Health investigate abortion provision and produce abortion guidance, F.P.A.N.I. hope to improve the quality of abortion services and alleviate the situation of those women who are legally entitled to abortion in Northern Ireland but cannot access it there. This action has challenged a public failure which impacts most negatively on those women who cannot easily escape its effects. Although the case succeeded in shaming the state for such a failure, the judicial review strategy could not challenge the legal ethos which denies women a say over their reproductive lives. This case commentary argues that pro-choice strategic litigation needs to positively and generally assert women’s reproductive rights at the same time as it seeks to accommodate the needs of the most vulnerable.

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Correspondence to Ruth Fletcher.

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Fletcher, R. Abortion Needs or Abortion Rights? Claiming State Accountability for Women’s Reproductive Welfare. Feminist Legal Stud 13, 123–134 (2005).

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Key words

  • abortion
  • duties
  • needs
  • rights
  • state
  • welfare