Belfast court rules abortion should be available in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality

Órla Ryan
Belfast court rules abortion should be available in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality

The belfast high Court has ruled that abortion laws in Northern Ireland breach European human rights law.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) called for abortion to be legalised in cases of serious foetal malformation, rape or incest.

A judicial review hearing was held in the summer.

The 1967 Abortion Act in the UK does not extend to Northern Ireland. The BBC notes that terminations are only allowed if a woman’s life is at risk, or if there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

Anyone who performs an illegal termination could be jailed for life.

Today Mr Justice Horner said women who are the victims of sexual crime and whose baby has a fatal foetal abnormality are entitled to exemptions in the law.

‘One law for the rich…’

When giving his judgement, Justice Horner said:

If it is morally wrong to abort a foetus in Northern Ireland, it is just as wrong morally to abort the same foetus in England. It does not protect morals to export the problem to another jurisdiction and then turn a blind eye.


If the aim is to prevent abortion, then it is surely no answer to say that abortion is freely available elsewhere and that necessary services can be easily accessed in an adjacent jurisdiction.


There is no evidence before this court, and the court has in no way attempted to restrict the evidence adduced by any party, that the law in Northern Ireland has resulted in any reduction in the number of abortions obtained by Northern Irish women.


Undoubtedly, it will have placed these women who had to have their abortions in England under greater stress, both financial and emotional, by forcing them to have the termination carried out away from home.


There can be no doubt that the law has made i it much more difficult for those with limited means to travel to England. They are the ones who are more likely to be greatly affected in their ability to terminate their pregnancy if they cannot obtain charitable assistance.


The protection of morals should not contemplate a restriction that bites on the impoverished but not the wealthy. That smacks of one law for the rich and one law for the poor.

Here’s a summary of the judgement.

More to follow…

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