In 2012, Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist, died after being denied an abortion at an Irish hospital.

Northern Ireland abortion law breaches human rights court rules
news Tuesday, December 01, 2015 - 10:49

The Belfast High Court on Monday ruled that abortion law in Northern Ireland breaches human rights of women and girls, including victims of sexual crimes and fatal foetal abnormality.

The historic judgement comes three years after Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist, died after being denied an abortion at an Irish hospital.

"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, I conclude that the Article 8 rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal foetal abnor malities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions," Justice Horner said.

According to a PTI report, it was Halappanavar's case "that resulted in a legislation change to the region's Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act to allow an abortion if a mother-to-be's life was at risk."

Another case which put a spotlight on the issue was that of Sarah Ewart. A woman from Northern Ireland, Ewart had to go to England for an abortion in 2013, after her baby had been diagnosed with a condition which it would not survive.

"We were told we were carrying a baby with anencephaly - it's the worst case of spina bifida so the baby has no skull formed and it's brain dead. It's very hard to come to terms with," Ewart had told the BBC.

At present, abortion is allowed in the region only if the woman's life is at risk or if continuing the pregnancy can have long-term negative effects on her health.

A report in The Guardian states "At present, under a 19th-century law, local medical teams could be jailed for life for carrying out abortions even in these circumstances. Unlike the rest of the UK, the Abortion Act 1967 has never applied to Northern Ireland and since devolution was restored the Stormont assembly has resisted any attempt to relax the near-total ban on terminations in local hospitals."

Northern Ireland’s attorney general John Larkin however said that he was "profoundly disappointed by this decision and I am considering grounds for appeal".

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) chief commissioner Les Allamby welcomed the ruling and was quoted by the BBC as saying: "Today's result is historic, and will be welcomed by many of the vulnerable women and girls who have been faced with these situations. "It was important for the commission to take this challenge in its own name, in order to protect women and girls in Northern Ireland and we are delighted with the result."

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