Abortion laws judgment due in landmark legal challenge


Judgment is expected in a landmark legal challenge to Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) wants termination of pregnancy to be legalised in cases of sexual crime or serious foetal malformation and has taken the case against the region's Department of Justice (DoJ).

Unlike other parts of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland where abortions are banned except where the life or mental health of the mother is in danger.

Anyone who performs an illegal termination could be jailed for life.

Mr Justice Mark Horner heard the legal arguments from both sides at Belfast High Court over three days in July.

A DoJ public consultation paper on changing the law to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality has been submitted to the Assembly but the NIHRC claims it does not go far enough.

The commission claims the current law, relating to access to termination of pregnancy services for women in cases of serious malformation of the foetus or pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, is incompatible with human rights legislation regarding inhuman and degrading treatment, privacy and discrimination.

Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin, the chief legal adviser to the Stormont Assembly, was given special permission to address the court. He said there was no public appetite for a law change.

The court also took submissions from legal representatives for Sarah Ewart, a 24-year-old woman who went public with her experience of travelling to England for an abortion in 2013 after being told her child had a severe brain malformation and no chance of survival outside the womb.

There were also a number of pro life and pro choice groups and the Catholic clergy.

The NIHRC said legal proceedings had been launched as a last resort.