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Saturday 21 April 2018

NI abortion ruling puts Ireland 'on notice'

Government told laws here ‘clearly’ breaching rights

A priest attends an anti-abortion rally at Custom House Square in Belfast during the summer
A priest attends an anti-abortion rally at Custom House Square in Belfast during the summer

Kevin Doyle and Sam Griffin

Irish abortion laws are "clearly" contravening the European Convention on Human Rights, it has been claimed, after a landmark court ruling in Belfast.

The judgment in the North could see a relaxation in the almost outright ban on women accessing termination there - and will buoy pro-abortion campaigners in the Republic.

Mr Justice Mark Horner ruled that women who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime, or have been told their child has a fatal foetal abnormality, are having their human rights breached by not being allowed access to an abortion.

Abortions are illegal in Northern Ireland except in very limited circumstances where the life or mental health of the mother is in danger.

Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty Ireland, told the Irish Independent that while the case has no legal standing in the Republic, it "clearly signals that Irish laws are contravening the human rights of women".

He said the Government was now "on notice", as laws here are "more restrictive and abusive" - adding that the issue could no longer be "dodged".

However, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the ruling will have no implications south of the Border and we should not be guided by determinations in other jurisdictions.

"What's different in the Republic of Ireland versus the North is that we give the unborn human rights - so that's what makes things a little bit different for the Republic of Ireland," Mr Varadkar said.

"We have a written constitution, and in our constitution it is enshrined a right to life, and that is not the case in Northern Ireland or Great Britain. So I think whatever we decide to do in the Republic of Ireland should be determined by what we want rather than judgments in other countries and other jurisdictions," he said.

Last week, Taoiseach Enda Kenny revealed that Fine Gael will propose a constitutional convention on the issue in their election manifesto.

The convention will be tasked with considering if the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal status to the life of the mother and the unborn, should be repealed and what should take its place.

Yesterday's ruling in Belfast has already sparked deeply divided reaction among campaigners. Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign said: "There is no right to abortion in international human rights law."

However, delivering his ruling over more than two hours, Judge Horner said the failure to provide exceptions to the law in certain limited circumstances breached a woman's right to privacy.

In cases of fatal foetal abnormality, he said the mother's inability to access an abortion was a "gross interference with her personal autonomy".

"When the foetus leaves the womb, it cannot survive independently. It is doomed. There is no life to protect," he said.

The court also heard that the near-blanket ban, reinforced with criminal sanctions, placed a disproportionate burden on victims of sexual crime.

"She has to face all the dangers and problems, emotional or otherwise, of carrying a foetus for which she bears no moral responsibility and is merely a receptacle to carry the child of a rapist and/or a person who has committed incest, or both," he said.

"In doing so, the law is enforcing prohibition of abortion against an innocent victim of a crime in a way which completely ignores the personal circumstances of the victim."

Northern Ireland's attorney general, John Larkin, has expressed "profound disappointment" with the ruling and said he is considering an appeal.

The high-profile case was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).

Irish Independent

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