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3 February 2015

Northern Ireland: Human rights challenge to abortion law

Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission has won its battle for a judicial review on the near outright ban on abortion in the region.

A high court judge in Belfast ruled that the commission could seek a review of the abortion law in Northern Ireland, the Guardian reports. Terminations are only permitted in Northern Irish hospitals if there is a direct threat to the mother’s life.

Mr Justice Treacy ruled that the commission had established an arguable case to be examined at a full hearing, which he listed for three days in June.

A spokesperson for the commission said:

“Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman, including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental heath, which is either long-term or permanent. The recent consultation published by the DoJ [Department of Justice] does not commit to making the changes that are necessary to comply with human rights law.“

The commission said its legal challenge was in part due to the exclusion of rape and incest victims in the Department of Justice’s proposals to reform abortion law.

“Given the vulnerability of women and girls in these situations, the commission considers it appropriate to use its powers and bring this legal challenge in its own name,” it added.

Meanwhile a potential post-election partner for Labour in a nationalist-backed coalition has said he would block abortion reforms in Northern Ireland. Dr Alasdair McDonnell, the leader of the SDLP, said he would oppose changing the law for the region even in cases where women and girls were victims of rape and incest. The South Belfast MP would also oppose abortion law reform in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities. McDonnell said:

“The SDLP is unequivocally opposed to abortion, even in those particular circumstances because basically, the predictions in those circumstances are never accurate. Nobody can predict that a fetus is not viable, and that’s the problem, and as a GP, I’m fully aware. I have seen situations where termination or an abortion was recommended to somebody because a fetus that had this, that or the other thing, and that fetus grew up to be a perfectly normal child.”

Northern Ireland high court grants judicial review of abortion law. Guardian, 2 February 2015