N Ireland abortion law breaches human rights, judge rules

Sarah Ewart L Jane Christie R and Grainne Teggart C leave Belfast High Court after the ruling in their favour Oct 3 2019 Credit Charles McQuillan Getty Images Sarah Ewart (L), Jane Christie (R), and Grainne Teggart (C) leave Belfast High Court after the ruling in their favour, Oct. 3, 2019. | Charles McQuillan/Getty Images.

The High Court in Belfast ruled Thursday that the region's existing abortion law is in violation of the United Kingdom's human rights commitments.

"It's a very sad day that the court has denied the right to life for unborn children," Bernie Smyth, director of the pro-life organization Precious Life, said Oct. 3. Smyth was present when the ruling was made.

The case challenging the legality of the country's abortion laws was brought forward by a woman named Sarah Ewart, who was denied an abortion in 2013 after it was determined that her baby would not live outside the womb. Ewart, who lives in Belfast, traveled to England for the procedure and has been an advocate for abortion rights in Northern Ireland since then.

Justice Siobhan Keegan declined to make a formal declaration of incompatibility, due to the fact that there is already legislation in place that would make abortion legal in Northern Ireland in the near future. A bill was passed in July by the British parliament that will make both abortion and same-sex marriage legal in the region if a devolved government is not formed by Oct. 21.

Last year, a similar challenge to Northern Ireland's abortion law was dismissed on a technicality. That case was led by Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which the judge said had no legal standing to appeal the abortion law.

At that time of the dismissal, the court said there would be a stronger case if it were to be led by a woman who was unable to have an abortion after becoming pregnant after sexual assault or who was carrying a baby with an abnormality. Ewart stepped in to lead this new case.

While elective abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks, currently it is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

In September, thousands of people took to the streets of Northern Ireland to protest abortion coming to the country. The "March for their Lives" was organized by Precious Life, who at the time told CNA they were "heartened and encouraged" by the strong turnout, which was estimated to be over 20,000.

The people of Northern Ireland made " a strong stand against the extreme and undemocratic legislation that Westminster is forcing on Northern Ireland," said Smyth.

"We believe Northern Ireland is being used as a Trojan horse to push for full 'decriminalisation' of abortion across the UK, a euphemism for the full legalisation of abortion through the whole nine months of pregnancy," said Smyth.

Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

Northern Irish women have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

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