Ford to appeal amid fears High Court ruling could mean abortion on demand
Stormont's Justice Minister is to appeal against a landmark High Court ruling on Northern Ireland's restrictive abortion laws amid concerns it has inadvertently paved the way for terminations on demand.
David Ford said there was a need to clarify Mr Justice Horner's judgment, which declared elements of the region's law incompatible with human rights legislation.
The ruling focused on ending the ban on women accessing abortion in cases of sexual crime or after a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality (FFA).
Mr Ford warned that the judge's words could be interpreted as advocating a near blanket relaxation of abortion legislation.
The Attorney General John Larkin is also appealing against the judgment, but on different grounds. Mr Larkin is appealing the entirety of the ruling but Mr Ford, whose department supports change in cases of FFA, is challenging specific elements.
While Northern Ireland's laws on terminations are much more restrictive than Great Britain's, the minister claimed the judgment had the potential to leave the region with the UK's most liberal abortion laws.
"The judgment from the High Court does not fully clarify the law and potentially leaves open the possibility there could be abortion on demand in Northern Ireland on an even wider basis than is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom," said Mr Ford.
The minister said his appeal would focus on a section of the ruling stating that an unborn child's right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights does not apply until the foetus could viably survive outside the womb.
Mr Ford claimed that this could be interpreted as giving an expectant mother free rein to abort before the point of viability, usually 22 to 24 weeks. Mr Ford said: "This potentially means we could have no rights for a foetus before its point of viability, and therefore the potential that could lead to women seeking an abortion on demand."