Friday 19 January 2018

I kept thinking: 'My baby has no brain, it will die' - How one woman's experience of abortion law led to Northern Ireland's High Court

Sarah Ewart
Sarah Ewart

By Deborah McAleese

To the right of the judge a predominantly female pro-choice legal team argued for the rights of women like Sarah Ewart.

After discovering her unborn child was going to die before or shortly after birth, Sarah could not face continuing with the pregnancy. However, because of the law in Northern Ireland, she had to travel to England for an abortion.

Launching a landmark legal challenge to Northern Ireland's abortion laws on Sarah's behalf was human rights lawyer Natalie Lievan QC.

Her high-profile clients include Moors murderer Ian Brady. She called this "cruel and inhumane treatment".

Before the case began in Belfast High Court yesterday Sarah said the law in Northern Ireland turned a "very personal family tragedy" into "a living nightmare".

"I was told that my baby was likely to die before being born or shortly afterwards. All I kept thinking was: 'Our baby has no brain, she cannot live'.

"I simply could not face it, but the law in Northern Ireland meant I had no option but to go to England and take myself away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me. I was 23 years old and totally devastated," she said.

Sarah added: "I, and many women like me, have been failed by our politicians. After they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Now, by their refusal to change the law, they leave me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women's behalf."

On the judge's left a predominantly male pro-life legal team were preparing their arguments in defence of Northern Ireland's 1861 abortion law.

Representing the Department of Justice, Tony McGleenan QC told the court that the legal challenge being brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on Sarah's behalf was "misconceived and wrong in law".

Also due to make submissions to the legal battle, which is expected to last three days, is Attorney General John Larkin.

Mr Larkin, who will be making representations in a personal capacity, sparked controversy two years ago when it emerged that he once compared the abortion of a highly disabled child to "putting a bullet in the back of the head of the child two days after it's born". Mr Larkin made the comments during a debate on Radio Ulster before becoming Attorney General.

Pro-life campaigner Bernadette Smyth was also in court yesterday to listen to legal arguments.

Ahead of the case Ms Smyth, director of the anti-abortion group Precious Life, said she was very concerned "that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had totally ignored the views of the people here and the politicians".

"It's a very undemocratic move.

"I'm greatly concerned that a so-called human rights organisation wants to take a case that will take away the rights of unborn children, who have a fundamental right to be born," she added.

Belfast Telegraph

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News