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Ruling 'opens up abortion to under-16s'

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 02/12/2015

Les Allamby from the NI Human Rights Commission said any girl who is pregnant under the age of 16 has been a victim of sexual crime
Les Allamby from the NI Human Rights Commission said any girl who is pregnant under the age of 16 has been a victim of sexual crime "regardless of whether anyone has been prosecuted"

The landmark High Court ruling on abortion could mean all girls under 16 would be entitled to termination in any circumstances, it has been claimed.

In his ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Horner said women who were the victims of sexual crime and cases of fatal foetal abnormality were entitled to exemptions in the law.

Last night the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said that as a girl under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sex, it would automatically result in them being a victim of a sexual crime and therefore having the right to access an abortion if the Assembly fully enacts the High Court's ruling.

The judgment faces a potential appeal, and legal experts have said the Assembly could impose restrictions.

Les Allamby from the NI Human Rights Commission said any girl who is pregnant under the age of 16 has been a victim of sexual crime "regardless of whether anyone has been prosecuted".

"The judgment made clear there is not a common law general right to a termination of pregnancy," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Subject to the other party's right of appeal and the judge's final verdict on whether the existing legislation can be read so as to comply with the Human Rights Act or a declaration of incompatibility be issued so that the matter goes to the Assembly to be resolved, it is our understanding that girls under 16 eventually should be able to access a termination locally under the terms of this judgment."

Bryce Dickson, professor of law at Queen's University, said it is a "possible" implication, but emphasised that judgment has to go through the Assembly before it becomes law.

Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin said he was "profoundly disappointed" by the decision and was "considering the grounds for appeal".

Pro-life campaigners Precious Life described the High Court decision as "undemocratic". Yesterday, a woman who became pregnant after being raped at 13 spoke of how she believes she still suffers from post traumatic stress more than 30 years after having an abortion.

The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the Nolan Show that she has spent years trying to overcome the emotional pain of having a termination in England and she wished she could have "turned the clock back" and kept her baby.

"My parents, being God-fearing Christians, coerced me into having an abortion and I had to go to England for that. Then I had to go back and go back to school the very next day," she said.

"My parents just thought that we could just forget about it, but fast-forward 37 years I realised I'm suffering from post-abortion trauma.

"Because I was never able to forget about the abortion, about the son that I had lost." Health Minister Simon Hamilton has circulated long-awaited new abortion guidelines for medical professionals in Northern Ireland to the Executive.

Meanwhile, four of Northern Ireland's Churches have given their responses to the ruling.

Rev Adrian Dorrian, chairman of the Church of Ireland's Church and Society Commission, said it appeared to go beyond recent consultation from the Department of Justice.

He added: "At the start of 2015... the Church was broadly accepting of a proposed change in the law to allow termination of pregnancy in the case of lethal foetal abnormality.

"In affirming the life of both mother and baby, we did not advocate a change in the law in the case of termination of pregnancies resulting from sexual crimes."

The Catholic Bishops of Ireland described the High Court decision as "profoundly disquieting" as it "effectively weighed up one life against another".

"We are profoundly shocked and disturbed at the judge's words that such children are doomed," a statement added.

"By any human and moral standard these children are persons and our duty to respect and protect their right to life does not change because of any court judgment."

The Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, convener of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's Council for Church in Society, said that the Church needed to consider the ruling more carefully.

But he added: "If we truly want Northern Ireland to be a place that affirms life, wellbeing and human dignity, then providing excellent perinatal care services, including practical, emotional and spiritual support, must be a top priority."

The Methodist of Church of Ireland said that its Council on Social Responsibility would look closely at the judgment in detail and make a considered response in due course.

Belfast Telegraph

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