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Lawsuit in Northern Ireland: Prohibiting abortion violates ‘respect for family life’

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

October 3, 2018 (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) – In the latest of a series of attempts to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland through the courts, a woman who travelled to England for an abortion is seeking a declaration of incompatibility with human rights law in cases of so-called "fatal foetal abnormalities."

Succession of court cases

Last month, a woman who procured her underage daughter's abortion with pills she illegally bought online went to court to challenge the decision to prosecute her. Now, Sarah Ewart, who travelled to England five years ago for an abortion after she found out her daughter had anencephaly, is applying for a judicial review of Northern Ireland's abortion laws. Amnesty International, who are supporting her case, argue that "Northern Ireland's abortion law is in violation of the UK's human rights obligations."

The challenge follows the dismissal of a case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (HRC), who argued that the Province's abortion laws are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), in the cases of rape, incest, "fatal foetal abnormalities" and disability.

Prohibiting abortion violates "respect for family life"

Although the Supreme Court dismissed the HRC's case on the grounds that it could not claim to be a victim for purposes of a judicial review, four of the seven justices said the law in the Province breached Article 8 of the ECHR. They claimed that the law was incompatible with the right to respect for private and family life in prohibiting abortion in cases of rape and incest and "fatal foetal abnormality". A fifth judge agreed with them that it was incompatible in the last case (where the baby has a life-limiting condition).

The justices unanimously agreed that the law is compatible with human rights in the case of non-fatal disabilities.

Now, Ms Ewart, who has standing as a victim, is bringing a case in her own name. 

This does nothing to help women

Commenting on the case, Liam Gibson, SPUC's political officer in Northern Ireland said: "At present the law our protects children equally regardless of the circumstances of conception or disability, even when a child is terminally ill. And while the views of the Supreme Court probably mean this case will almost certain lead to a declaration of incompatibility, the court can't strike the law down. Its real significance is that it makes abortion appear to be a compassionate response to a woman who is told her baby is not going to survive after birth. Of course we know that regardless of the reasons it is performed abortion always takes the life of an innocent child and does nothing to help vulnerable women. Sadly, this case has already been exploited by politicians seeking to decriminalise abortion and deprive all unborn children of any legal protection."

Published with permission from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

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