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Is landmark abortion ruling good news for women in Northern Ireland?

Published 01/12/2015

Two opposing views on the landmark ruling on abortion in Northern Ireland.

No, says Dawn McAvoy: This is a ruling that fails to recognise the humanity and dignity of women, their unborn child and its inherent value and worth - regardless of ability and circumstances of conception.

It is alarming that human rights are being used to end human life. It is also significant that one judge has been able to override a Government consultation on the issue.

In a confused judgment, Mr Justice Horner ruled that a "foetus does not have a right to life under Article 2", but that "pre-natal life here is given protection under certain statutes".

The judge also states that, in the case of a baby with a life-limiting disability, "there is no human life to protect". The court appears to be dictating when the unborn baby even exists - never mind when it has a right to life.

At the same time, the judge has described a mother as "merely a receptacle" - a term that is deeply offensive to me and many other mothers.

The ruling seems to have fallen for the false dichotomy that pits the rights of the mother against her unborn child.

There is no evidence that abortion is either best practice or the default choice of the majority of women in either of these tragic situations. The difficult diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality is, in reality, a diagnosis of a life-limiting disability. No medical professional can ever say, with 100% certainty, that a child will not survive birth.

This tiny family member deserves better than abortion. Nickolas Coke, a boy with anencephaly, considered to be a fatal foetal abnormality, has lived to the age of three.

Sexual crime is a grievous abuse of a woman's dignity and rights. The real injustice is that we live in a society which objectifies women and within which sexual crime is rarely reported, prosecuted, or sentenced appropriately.

When pregnancy results, abortion cannot undo the terrible harm and, tragically, creates a second innocent victim.

Instead of offering death as the best care, we seek to stand in solidarity with women and their families in these life-changing circumstances.

The judge has already acknowledged that his ruling is likely to be appealed. The law in Northern Ireland is clear; it has a legitimate aim - to protect the mother and unborn child.

The Health Minister has already promised guidelines in this area, which would be a much better way to deal with this difficult issue.

Abortion brings only death to a relationship that is all about new life. Where there is despair, I see hope through the provision of world-leading pregnancy crisis care, including perinatal hospice care.

The women, unborn children and wider community of Northern Ireland deserve better than abortion.

Dawn McAvoy is a researcher with the Evangelical Alliance in Belfast

Yes, says Suzanne Breen: In years to come, we will look back on the days when we once forced women to give birth in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality, in the same way we now look back on the days of slavery — with shame.

We will be embarrassed that it wasn’t until 2015 that we decided to recognise the human rights of those who had already suffered the vilest sexual violence or were in the heartbreaking position of carrying a foetus with no brain and no chance of survival.

By refusing abortions in these cases, we occupied the same territory as the Taliban on women’s rights. Our politicians, as usual, dithered and dragged their feet. The Department of Justice’s gutless consultation paper on the issue fails to even allow for abortion in cases of rape. And this from a minister from the so-called progressive and enlightened Alliance Party.

Thankfully, the courts showed courage and compassion where our political parties did not. Yesterday’s High Court judgment is long overdue. By taking the case, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has, at long last, lived up to its name.

The judgment is in keeping with public opinion. Northern Ireland is a conservative society yet a recent opinion poll still showed only 16% of people opposed abortion in cases of rape and 19% in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

But Mr Justice Horner’s ruling certainly isn’t the end of the battle for campaigners. It allows abortion only in the most restrictive circumstances. The ruling assists only a small percentage of women seeking abortions — there are on average two cases of fatal foetal abnormality a month here — but it leaves most women with unwanted pregnancies as badly off as ever.

The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act still remains the foundation stone of Northern Ireland’s abortion law. By retaining such Victorian legislation, we’re failing thousands of women each year. The women buy abortion pills online, an underground activity which makes them feel like criminals.

The women fly to Britain for terminations they should be able to have at home. Women who have cobbled together money for the trip and been forced to lie about where they’re going. They aren’t shadowy figures, they’re our friends, family, neighbours. We must address the issue locally. It’s cowardly to rely on England and the internet to do our dirty work for us.

Belfast Telegraph

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