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Northern Ireland: Amnesty Welcomes Landmark Court Decision On Abortion Law

30th November 2015, 13:25:20 UTC

Amnesty International has welcomed today’s Belfast High Court decision in a Judicial Review case which found that laws governing abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of severe and fatal impairment of the foetus and sexual crime are in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Judge Mr Justice Mark Horner told Belfast High Court that women’s human rights were being breached by current laws:

“In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their Convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the Article Eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal foetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions.”

It is illegal in Northern Ireland for an abortion to be carried out, except when the life or health of the mother is in danger. Anyone who performs an illegal abortion could be jailed for life.

The Judicial Review was taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and was joined by Amnesty International and local woman Sarah Ewart. Mrs Ewart’s first pregnancy was given a fatal foetal impairment diagnosis, and she had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy as Northern Ireland’s laws did not permit her to receive medical treatment within the region.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK My Body My Rights Campaign Manager said:

“Today’s High Court decision is a hugely significant step towards ensuring the right to access abortion for women and girls in Northern Ireland who have been raped, are victims of incest or whose pregnancies have been given a fatal foetal diagnosis. Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion date back to the nineteenth century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe.”

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said:

“Today’s decision is not just something the Northern Ireland Assembly must act on. The Irish Government is now on notice that it too is violating the European Convention on Human Rights. It denies women and girls access to abortion in these cases. In fact, it doesn’t even allow access to abortion on health grounds as required under international human rights law, so its abortion law is more restrictive and abusive. Ireland’s 8th Amendment to the Constitution is no excuse for human rights violations.”

Grainne Teggart said:

“Today’s court decision is a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to prioritise women’s healthcare. It’s shameful that the Courts have had to step in because politicians have repeatedly failed Northern Ireland’s women.

“Northern Ireland’s abortion laws must be brought into the twenty-first century and into line with international law as a matter of urgency.”

Sarah Ewart, whose first pregnancy was given a fatal foetal diagnosis, had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy as Northern Ireland laws did not permit her to receive medical treatment within the region. She said:

“I hope that today’s ruling means that I, and other women like me, will no longer have to go through the pain I experienced, of having to travel to England, away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me, to access the healthcare I needed.”

“I, and many women like me have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women’s behalf.

“I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare.”

If you would like to take online action calling on the Taoiseach to decriminalise abortion in the Republic or Ireland, you can do so here. If you would like to make a contribution to our tireless campaigns defending human rights, you can do so here.