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Northern Ireland: Amnesty will resist attempt to overturn High Court ruling on abortion

Amnesty International has pledged to resist any attempt to overturn the decision of the Belfast High Court that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breach the human rights of women and girls in the region.

In November the Court found that Northern Ireland’s restrictive and punitive abortion laws deny women and girls their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family and private life. In December the Court granted a ‘declaration of incompatibility’ that the existing legislation is contrary to human rights in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal diagnosis. This puts the onus on the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate to change the law to allow for abortion in such circumstances.

It was announced today that Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, John Larkin, has lodged an appeal to the Court’s decision. The case will now likely go to the Court of Appeal and may ultimately end up in the UK Supreme Court.

The law governing abortion in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive in Europe and carries the harshest criminal penalty of any European country – life imprisonment both for the woman who has an illegal abortion and for anyone who has assisted her.

Amnesty International intervened in the original High Court case, which was taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, and supported local woman Sarah Ewart in giving evidence to the court about her experience. Mrs Ewart’s first pregnancy was given a fatal foetal diagnosis and she had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy as it was illegal at home.

The Court’s decision was hailed by Amnesty as a “hugely significant step” towards ensuring the right to access abortion for women and girls in Northern Ireland who have been raped, are victims of incest or whose pregnancies have been given a fatal foetal diagnosis. The organisation is calling for Northern Ireland legislators to change abortion law in the region.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said:

“The High Court made a very clear ruling that laws governing abortion in Northern Ireland breach the human rights of women and girls. That important ruling stands and we stand ready to resist any attempt to overturn it.

“It is notable that the Department of Justice, which was the respondent in this case, does not appear to be appealing the Court’s decision. The Minister clearly recognises that our abortion law must be changed.

“The Northern Ireland Executive must now take a lead in introducing changes to abortion law to ensure that women are able to access fully their human right to healthcare, as directed by the High Court.

“The Assembly must bring Northern Ireland’s abortion laws into the twenty-first century and into line with international law as a matter of urgency.”

Seven out of ten people in Northern Ireland back changes to abortion law in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal diagnosis, according to independent opinion polling published by Amnesty International in 2014.

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