Q&A: What is the law on abortion in the North?
At present, it is unlawful to perform a termination except to preserve the life or mental health of the mother. Punishment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination is life imprisonment.
What is the case about?
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) is seeking a change in the law to offer women and girls a choice of accessing a termination in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest.
Who is involved?
The NIHRC has taken the case against the Department of Justice. The Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin, is also involved.
What is public opinion on abortion in the North?
Abortion is one of the most emotive and divisive issues in Northern Ireland. When Marie Stopes set up a clinic in Belfast in 2012 there were large-scale demonstrations and pro-life campaigners continue to picket the facility on a daily basis. Anti-abortionists argue any change to the law is undemocratic while pro-choice campaigners believe women in Northern Ireland should have the same choices as others in the UK.
Following public consultation, the North's Justice Minister David Ford recommended changing the law in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality. At present there is still no guidance on of abortion for health professionals working in the region.
What are the grounds for legal action?
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has asked the court to declare that 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 law and results in a breach of the rights of women and girls seeking a termination of pregnancy in these circumstances.
Could there be an appeal?
Any party in the case, (The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General) has six weeks to appeal after the judgment is delivered.
What happens next?
The judge has invited parties to make submissions about whether it is possible to read the legislation in such a way to ensure that no offence is committed in respect of terminations of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies due to sexual crime before the foetus is able to exist independently of the mother. The court is expected to re-convene in December.