Tuesday 20 November 2018

Mother facing prosecution for purchasing abortion pills for daughter living in ‘fear and pain’

A legal challenge to the case has been adjourned at the High Court in Belfast

Solicitors Jemma Conlon (centre) and Stephen Chambers (left) with Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International speak to the media outside the High Court in Belfast where the court adjourned a judicial review taken by a mother who was prosecuted for securing abortion pills for her daughter. Brian Lawless/PA.
Solicitors Jemma Conlon (centre) and Stephen Chambers (left) with Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International speak to the media outside the High Court in Belfast where the court adjourned a judicial review taken by a mother who was prosecuted for securing abortion pills for her daughter. Brian Lawless/PA.
Anti-abortion demonstrators, including Bernadette Smyth (centre) outside the High Court in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

Michael McHugh, David Young and Rebecca Black

A legal challenge involving a woman accused of obtaining abortion pills for her teenage daughter in Northern Ireland has been adjourned.

Before the case began, the woman said she was in “fear and pain” over the looming prosecution.

The judicial review hearing was adjourned to allow prosecutors to make a formal submission to the High Court in Belfast on the human rights implications of the case in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling.

Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: “Dealing with the case in the absence of understanding the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) response to the Supreme Court would be entirely inappropriate.

“We are going to take the case out today.”

He directed that prosecutors give their response within two weeks.

Unlike other parts of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland.

The procedure is illegal except where a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious danger to her mental or physical health.

In June, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission lost its Supreme Court appeal over the legality of Northern Ireland’s restrictive law.

But a majority of judges said the law was incompatible with human rights law in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.

Sir Declan said on Thursday: “There is a continuing duty to keep under review the question.”

He said there has been a relevant event in terms of the judgment of the Supreme Court.

A barrister for the PPS, Tony McGleenan QC, said there had not been a “formalised” analysis of the ruling by the higher court but the organisation had “cognisance” of it.

Sir Declan said: “If this matter goes to the Supreme Court the case may be disposed of, in that there is no evidence that the court reviewed the case.”

The mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is seeking a judicial review in the civil courts of the decision to prosecute her in the criminal court over an allegation she obtained abortion medication for her pregnant 15-year-old daughter.

Before the brief court hearing, she said the case “is there at every important moment of my and my children’s lives – just hanging over me.

“The fear and pain of it all. I feel like I am not allowed to move on.”

She said she had been “struggling with anxiety” and had lost all trust in doctors and no longer uses their services.

She is supported by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission.

Anti-abortion activists including Bernie Smyth from campaign group Precious Life also gathered outside court ahead of the hearing.

She said: “The importance of this case is to send a very clear message out to the people in Northern Ireland, to women in Northern Ireland who would feel maybe their only option is to purchase very dangerous illegal abortion pills and we are saying there is another way.

“It is vitally important that we uphold the law here in Northern Ireland.”

Press Association

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