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Northern Ireland: stop riding roughshod over rights of women and girls and change abortion laws

•    Poll showed 7 out of 10 people in Northern Ireland want to abortion law reform  

•    High Court found existing laws to breach international human rights standards

Northern Ireland’s abortion laws must stop riding roughshod over the rights of women and girls, and breaching international human rights standards warned Amnesty International as the appeal brought by the Northern Ireland Executive begins today (20 June).

The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal is due to hear an appeal brought by Northern Ireland’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General after the Belfast High Court found in favour of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission which took the judicial review case in December last year.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, an intervenor in the case, said:

“The High Court’s landmark ruling was a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to prioritise women’s healthcare.

“Now we look to the Court of Appeal to reinforce the right of women and girls to access safe and legal abortion health services in Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland’s law on abortion rides roughshod over the rights of women and breaches international human rights standards.

“This week, Amnesty International will be in court in support of the Human Rights Commission to resist the Northern Ireland Executive’s attempt to overturn the High Court decision.

“Instead of litigation, we need legislation from the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring our law into line with international standards.

“Polls show that seven out of ten people in Northern Ireland want to see the law reformed to allow for terminations in cases of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormality. Such public support must now be translated into political action on behalf of women who are otherwise forced to take the plane to England.”

Sarah Ewart was forced in 2013 to travel to England for a termination after her first pregnancy was given a fatal foetal diagnosis at the time of her 19-week scan, is also an intervenor in the Court of Appeal. Ms Ewart said:

“The High Court ruling should have meant that I, and other women like me, would no longer have to go through the pain I experienced, of having to travel to England, away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me, to access the healthcare I needed.

“But I, and many women like me, have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts.

“Now, by appealing the Court’s decision, rather than getting on with reforming the law, the Northern Ireland Executive has forced me back to the law courts. It is time our politicians stopped blocking women’s right to decent healthcare.”

In November last year 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.

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 in the process.


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