Challenge against Northern Ireland abortion laws begins in Supreme Court

Wednesday, 25 Oct, 2017

Ms Ewart argues that Northern Ireland's laws are incompatible with her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

She believes women's lives are being put at risk.

Northern Ireland's strict abortion law criminalises "exceptionally vulnerable" women and girls and subjects them to "inhuman and degrading" treatment, the UK's highest court has heard.

A landmark challenge to Northern Ireland's abortion laws opened before the UK Supreme Court today and will run until Thursday.

The submissions, which marked the start of a three-day appeal, argued the current law is an "unjustified" breach of human rights.

They reported feelings of "trauma and humiliation", according to the barrister.

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland unless there is a direct threat to the mother's life.

Labour MP Stella Creasy had tabled an amendment to the Queen's Speech calling for "adequate funding" to ensure free access to abortions in England for women arriving from Northern Ireland.

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Considering that the Supreme Court in London is the final court of appeal for all civil and criminal cases - this is a significant step in Northern Ireland's abortion law story.

"The commission stands accused of abandoning genuine human rights and instead using public funding to target disabled babies for abortion".

"In the case of a fatal foetal abnormality, they must carry to term a foetus that, by definition, can not survive independently and may, by the time of delivery, be dead". "It's an act of lethal violence directed at an unborn child".

It will also rule on whether the Northern Ireland Act 1998 entitles the NIHRC to bring the proceedings under the Human Rights Act 1998 to seek a declaration of incompatibility.

The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in February a year ago against legalising abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape or incest.

The Stormont Executive's senior legal adviser, Attorney General John Larkin QC, along with the Justice Department, argue that the commission does not have legal power to bring the case and says it has failed to identify an unlawful act. Many women are forced to travel to access abortion services, continue with unwanted pregnancies or try to obtain abortion illegally. Now that Britain has determined how it will implement its policy change, the legislation is expected to have a noticeable impact, especially considering thousands of Irish women travel to Britain every year to get abortions, paying up to around $1,200 for the procedure.

He added that the case was of "great significance in the United Kingdom and internationally".

The hearing is due to last for three days.