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Even the shortest life is precious, Larkin tells abortion hearing

By Alan Erwin

Published 21/06/2016

Sarah Ewart, who travelled to England for the abortion of a baby with a fatal foetal abnormality, with Amnesty’s Patrick Corrigan outside court
Sarah Ewart, who travelled to England for the abortion of a baby with a fatal foetal abnormality, with Amnesty’s Patrick Corrigan outside court
Anti-abortion campaigner Bernie Smyth at the hearing yesterday

The grief of a woman who travelled to England for an abortion shows human life was present, Northern Ireland's top law officer argued yesterday.

Attorney General John Larkin QC made the courtroom claim as he challenged a judge's finding that it was wrong to prohibit the termination of a foetus unable to exist outside the womb.

Mr Larkin and the Department of Justice are appealing a landmark verdict that abortion law here is incompatible with human rights legislation.

The NI Human Rights Commission, who issued the original proceedings, is also mounting a cross-appeal in a bid to have the regime declared discriminatory.

Last year, the High Court ruled that the failure to provide exceptions to the near-blanket ban for cases of fatal foetal abnormalities (FFA) and victims of rape or incest breached rights.

The Commission took legal action after the Department of Justice launched a public consultation on amending the law that ended with a recommendation for new legislation on FFA.

The Commission said that did not go far enough because there were no provisions for pregnancies resulting from sex crimes.

During the original case, arguments were also made on behalf of Sarah Ewart, a woman from Northern Ireland who went to England for an abortion after learning her unborn baby had no chance of survival.

Challenging the verdict in the original case at the Court of Appeal, Mr Larkin referred to submissions from both Ms Ewart and another unidentified woman who gave a name to the baby she was carrying with an FFA.

"Each were expressing grief for the loss of a baby," he told a panel of three senior judges.

The Attorney General contended that the High Court ruling had erroneously failed to weigh the two women's experiences in the balance.

"One is dealing with life that may be of short duration but is nonetheless precious," he said.

"When the trial judge says there's no human life to protect, that's plainly wrong."

Mr Larkin went on to claim the Commission lacked the necessary victim status to bring judicial review proceedings.

Further arguing that no unlawful act had been identified, he said: "This goes to the core of the Commission's jurisdiction to bring these proceedings."

The appeal continues.

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