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Northern Ireland: Amnesty Welcomes Landmark Court Decision on Abortion Law

“It is shameful that the Courts have had to step in because politicians have repeatedly failed Northern Ireland’s women” - Grainne Teggart

BELFAST - Amnesty International has welcomed today’s Belfast High Court decision in a Judicial Review case which found that laws governing abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of serious malformation of the foetus and sexual crime are in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Judge Mr Justice Mark Horner told Belfast High Court that women’s human rights were being breached by current laws:

“In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their Convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the Article Eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal foetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions.”

It is illegal in Northern Ireland for an abortion to be carried out, except when the life or mental health of the mother is in danger. Anyone who performs an illegal abortion could be jailed for life.

The Judicial Review was taken by Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and was joined by Amnesty International and local woman Sarah Ewart. Mrs Ewart’s first pregnancy was given a fatal foetal diagnosis, and she had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy as Northern Ireland laws did not permit her to receive medical treatment within the region.

Grainne Teggart, Campaign Manager for Amnesty’s My Body My Rights campaign said:

“Today’s High Court decision is 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.

“Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion date back to the nineteenth century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe.

“Today’s court decision is a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to prioritise women’s healthcare. It’s shameful that the Courts have had to step in because politicians have repeatedly failed Northern Ireland’s women.

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

Sarah Ewart, whose first pregnancy was given a fatal foetal diagnosis, had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy as Northern Ireland laws did not permit her to receive medical treatment within the region. She said:

“I hope that today’s ruling means that I, and other women like me, will 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.”

“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 on my and other women's behalf.

“I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare.”

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Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.

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