Monday 21 October 2019

Northern Ireland's abortion laws 'breach human rights', court rules

Sarah Ewart (centre) outside the Supreme Court in Westminster Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Sarah Ewart (centre) outside the Supreme Court in Westminster Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Newsdesk Newsdesk

Northern Ireland's strict abortion law breaches the UK's human rights commitments, the High Court in Belfast has ruled.

The case was brought by Sarah Ewart, who was denied an abortion in Northern Ireland in 2013, despite doctors stating her unborn child would not survive outside the womb.

She travelled to England for a termination and has since campaigned for Northern Ireland's abortion laws to be reformed.

Abortions are only allowed in the province in cases where a woman's life is at risk or there is serious risk to her mental or physical health.

In the High Court on Thursday, Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan said Sarah Ewart was a victim.

"Her personal testimony is compelling," she said.

"The decision on the substantive capabilities issue was intended to have persuasive effect."

After the ruling, Ms Ewart described the outcome as "a turning point for women in their campaign against the outdated laws prohibiting against abortion in Northern Ireland".

"It should never have had to come to this," she said.

"Today’s ruling is a vindication of all those women who have fought tirelessly to ensure that we never again have to go through what I did in 2013."

While Grainne Teggart from Amnesty International said: "This ground breaking ruling is a huge win for abortion rights in Northern Ireland. The court has spoken – the law is a clear violation of rights.

"Today’s ruling shows just how urgently change is needed so this healthcare can be accessed without having to travel."

The judge followed the ruling of the Supreme Court that abortion law in Northern Ireland was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

She said Ms Ewart had legal standing to challenge the law and had been affected by it.

The judge said: "She has had to modify her behaviour in that she could not have medical treatment in Northern Ireland due to the risk of criminal prosecution.

"She may be actively affected in the future. In my view her personal testimony is not disputed."

The judge will hear further submissions before deciding what action to take.

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