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Woman who went to England for abortion 'a victim of NI's laws'

By Alan Erwin

Published 23/06/2016

Case: Sarah Ewart at court on Monday
Case: Sarah Ewart at court on Monday

A woman who travelled to England to terminate a foetus with a fatal defect is a victim of Northern Ireland's abortion laws, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Senior judges were told the denial of services to Sarah Ewart in her own country was discriminatory, inhuman and degrading.

Counsel for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission also accused Attorney General John Larkin QC of making "pernicious" submissions about requiring actual victims of sexual crime for the legal challenge.

Nathalie Lieven QC was speaking on the third day of a court battle over the abortion regime.

Terminations are only legal here to protect a woman's life or if there is risk of serious damage to her well-being.

Last year, the High Court ruled that the failure to provide exceptions to the near-blanket ban on abortions for cases of fatal foetal abnormalities (FFAs) and victims of rape or incest breached private and family life entitlements under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In a case brought by the commission, Mr Justice Horner also said the legislation was incompatible with the UK's obligations under the Human Rights Act.

His decision is now being appealed by both the Department of Justice at Stormont and the Attorney General.

The commission is also mounting a cross-appeal in a bid to have the regime further declared in breach of Articles 3 and 14 of the ECHR, prohibiting degrading treatment and discrimination.

Legal action began after the department launched a public consultation on the criminal law.

That process concluded with a recommendation for new legislation dealing with cases of FFA.

But with no proposed changes covering pregnancies resulting from sexual crime, the commission insisted the consultation did not go far enough.

It also wants to have terminations legalised in cases of rape or serious foetal malformation.

As part of the appeal against Mr Justice Horner's landmark verdict, judges were told the case lacked a required victim.

Ms Lieven highlighted the example of Ms Ewart, a woman from Northern Ireland who had to travel to England for an abortion after learning her unborn baby had no chance of survival.

She told the court: "Ms Ewart is a victim. She is a victim now on the facts as recorded in her two affidavits and unchallenged."

Turning to sexual crimes, Ms Lieven argued that any woman or girl from here who became pregnant through rape or incest and who wanted an abortion was a victim. The appeal continues.

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