Belfast Telegraph

Abortion law challenge to be heard next month

Judicial review sought by Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

By Alan Erwin

A legal challenge to the abortion law in Northern Ireland will be heard next month.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) is seeking to judicially review the Department of Justice over the current near-blanket ban on terminations.

The body wants a change in the legislation to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest or serious foetal malformation.

At the High Court in Belfast today a judge listed the first stage of the case for hearing on February 2.

Mr Justice Treacy was also told anti-abortion campaign group Precious Life and sexual health charity Family Planning Association have both registered an interest in the proceedings.

Unlike other parts of the UK, terminations are currently only legal in the region to protect the woman's life or where there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Lawyers representing the NIHRC are set to argue that the existing law is a violation of human rights.

The court battle comes as Justice Minister David Ford continues a public consultation on amending the criminal law on abortion in Northern Ireland.

His Department has criticised the decision to take legal action, describing it as ill-timed and unnecessary.

The consultation paper is seeking public opinion on possible changes to law in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and rape.

It includes a recommendation for proposed legislation allowing an abortion in circumstances where there is no prospect of the foetus being delivered and having a viable life.

But according to the NIHRC the consultation does not commit to making the changes it believes are necessary.

It deals with cases of lethal foetal abnormality but only seeks public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest, it said at the time the legal challenge was announced.

Full arguments will now be set out when the case is heard in four weeks time.

Outside court one of the Family Planning Association's legal representatives explained why it was seeking status as an intervener in the NIHRC's application for judicial review.

Solicitor Dorcas Crawford said: "The FPA supports the position of the applicant in that we believe the current law causes major difficulties to women affected by it.

"The FPA wants to support the change in the law that the Human Rights Commission is asking for."

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