The Belfast High Court has today decided to hear a case that could rule that Northern Ireland’s abortion law breaches the UK’s human rights commitments.
The case has been brought forward by Sarah Ewart – a woman who was forced to travel to the UK for an abortion after being told her baby would not survive. The case could result in a declaration that Northern Ireland’s abortion law is in violation of the UK’s human rights commitments under the European Convention of Human Rights.
The hearing is expected to take place in January 2019.
Sarah Ewart, said:
“I hope this means the beginning of the end to the trauma I’ve been through – constantly going through the court system and having to re-tell and re-live my experience is exhausting. It will be worth it if this case pushes forward reform so that no more women are affected and hurt by the current law.”
The judicial review was granted one day after Diana Johnson MP’s decriminalisation of abortion bill passed first stage in House of Commons. Later today an amendment tabled by MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn addressing equal rights for people in Northern Ireland on abortion and equal marriage is expected to be debated and voted upon.
Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaigns Manager, said:
“A huge amount rests on this case for women in Northern Ireland. If the court rules that the UK is violating its human rights obligations by allowing women to suffer under the abortion law in Northern Ireland, the UK Government will have no choice but to respond.
“However, women should not be forced through the courts to have their rights realised. Yesterday, a bill to decriminalise abortion passed first stage in the House of Commons with a landslide 208 MPs in favour to 123 against. The UK Government has the power to act now to decriminalise abortion and ensure free, safe and legal access to abortion for all women in Northern Ireland.”
Sarah Ewart and Amnesty International brought the case forward after the UK’s Supreme Court was unable to issue a formal declaration of incompatibility – the declaration issued by a UK court that a statute is incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights – in June. Despite five of the seven UK Supreme Court judges ruling that Northern Ireland’s abortion law is in clear breach of human rights, the court found that the Northern Irish Human Rights Commission (the body that brought the case) did not have the power to bring these proceedings forward, as it was not itself a ‘victim’ of any unlawful act. Sarah Ewart and Amnesty International are hoping that by bringing an individual’s case to the Belfast High Court, the declaration of incompatibility will be achieved.