High Court rules NI abortion law breaches human rights

Northern Ireland’s strict abortion law breaches the UK’s human rights commitments, the High Court in Belfast has ruled.

A challenge was brought by Belfast woman Sarah Ewart who had to travel to England for a termination after being refused the procedure in Northern Ireland.

She had been told by doctors that, due to a fatal foetal abnormality, her unborn child would either die in the womb or shortly after birth.

Unlike in the rest of the UK, that is not grounds for a legal abortion in Northern Ireland, where the procedure is only allowed if the mother’s life is in danger.

On Thursday, Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan said Ms Ewart’s personal testimony was “compelling”.

“My overall conclusion is that the applicant has standing to bring a claim of this nature on the basis of the evidence she has provided,” the judge said.

“She has been affected by the current law in that she has had to travel to seek an abortion in desperate circumstances.

“In addition, she runs the risk of being directly affected again by the current legal impositions given that she is at risk of a baby having a fatal foetal abnormality.

“She has had to modify her behaviour in that she could not have medical treatment in Northern Ireland due to the risk of criminal prosecution. She may be actively affected in the future.

“In my view, her personal testimony is not disputed.”

The judge added that she would follow a previous Supreme Court ruling that abortion law in Northern Ireland was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

She will hear further submissions before deciding what action to take.