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Supreme Court rejects challenge to Northern Ireland abortion law

7 June 2018


SPUC and other pro-lifers witness outside the Supreme Court. Image: Getty

But the judges opinions will be used to pressure Northern Ireland to change its pro-life laws

As the release of abortion statistics shows discrimination against disabled children continues, a case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission that the Province's abortion laws are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has been dismissed.

Justices at the UK’s highest court dismissed the legal challenge by a narrow majority of four to three and said they had no jurisdiction to consider the latest case because there was no actual or potential victim of an unlawful act involved in it.

Worrying opinions

However, four of the seven justices expressed their opinion that the law was incompatible with Article 8 of the ECHR, the right to respect for private and family life, in prohibiting abortion in cases of rape and incest and "fatal foetal abnormality". A fifth agreed with them that it was incompatible in the last case (where the baby has a life-limiting condition).

The justices unanimously agreed that the law is compatible with human rights in the case of non-fatal disabilities. Lord Kerr said: "“Many children born with disabilities, even grave disabilities, lead happy, fulfilled lives. In many instances they enrich and bring joy to their families and those who come into contact with them. Moreover the difficulty in devising a confident and reliable definition of serious malformation we regarded as a potent factor against a finding of incompatibility."

Judges don't view unborn as people

SPUC's Liam Gibson, who was outside the Supreme Court witnessing to the right to life of disabled babies, welcomed the dismissal of the case, but hit out at the discriminatory attitudes shown in the judges' opinions. "While we welcome the recognition of the value of the lives of people with serious disabilities, it is appalling that judges in the UK Supreme Court do not place the same value on the lives of children with life-limiting conditions or who have been conceived through sexual crimes", he said. "The judges considered that no unborn child should be regarded a person, but all human beings are persons: there are no 'subhuman' human beings."

What next?

He also explained that "the accusation that Northern Ireland’s law is incompatible with Article 8 is no more than the opinion of the majority of judges: it is in no way a binding judgement. The opinions of the judges are merely personal, and a different panel may well have come to very different conclusions."

It is expected that Sarah Ewart, a Northern Irish woman who travelled to England for an abortion after her unborn baby was diagnosed with anencaphaly, will now bring a case in her own right. Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley, responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons, said the government is "carefully considering" the judgement.

Abortion stats show disability discrimination

The case came on the day that the 2017 abortion statistics were released. They show that the numbers of babies aborted under Ground E, the basis that there is a risk that the child would be born 'seriously handicapped', has continued to rise.

Antonia Tully, Campaigns Director at SPUC said: "On the day when judges in the Supreme Court expressed their lethally discriminatory opinions about unborn babies with life-limiting conditions, we note that the pressure on parents to abort disabled babies with a whole range of medical conditions is unremitting. Every year around 3,000 families who face the challenging news that their unborn baby has a disability of one kind or another undergo the unique tragedy of abortion, where their child’s life is quite deliberately taken.

Families need help, not abortion

"While studies show that all women risk mental health problems following an abortion, the after-effects for women who abort a disabled baby are particularly traumatic", she continued. "Many studies show that these women experience a range of emotions including sadness, loneliness, grief and anger. A 2014 study found that 40% of women who aborted a disabled baby felt nothing but negative emotions after the abortion.

"Families need care and support when they are expecting a disabled child, not the heartless 'solution' of an abortion."

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