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Move to relax law on basis of human rights stymied

By Staff Reporter

Published 13/02/2016

Courageous: Sarah Ewart
Courageous: Sarah Ewart

This week Northern Ireland's MLAs voted against legalising abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

A fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis means doctors believe an unborn child has a terminal condition and will die in the womb or shortly after birth.

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland under most circumstances, and only allowed for strong medical reasons.

In 2013 Sarah Ewart shared her personal story of how, at 20 weeks pregnant, she travelled to England for a termination after her baby had been diagnosed with anencephaly - a condition in which the brain has not developed.

Under the abortion law in Northern Ireland, she was advised that as her health was not at risk she would have to carry the baby full term.

The 1967 Abortion Act which applies to the rest of the UK was never extended to Northern Ireland, and hundreds of women travel to the mainland UK each year for abortions.

The province is currently governed by a 19th-century law under which medical teams could be sentenced to serve time in prison for carrying out abortions.

This week the Assembly voted down an amendment to the justice bill last week that would have made abortion legal for women suffering from fatal foetal abnormalities.

It followed a Belfast High Court ruling in November where Mr Justice Horner found that the near-total ban violated the human rights of women, including those suffering from fatal foetal abnormalities, as well as rape victims made pregnant through sexual crimes.

The ruling followed a case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to extend abortion to cases of serious foetal malformation, rape or incest.

Belfast Telegraph

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