Belfast Telegraph

MPs will 'act' if court upholds challenge to Northern Ireland abortion law

Evidence: Penny Mordaunt
Evidence: Penny Mordaunt

By Gavin Cordon

Parliament will step in to change Northern Ireland's strict law on abortion if a court rules it is incompatible with individual human rights, Women and Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt has said.

At a Tory leadership hustings in Belfast on Tuesday, both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt said they believed the issue should be a matter for the devolved authorities in Northern Ireland.

But with the Stormont institutions suspended since the collapse of power-sharing in 2017, Ms Mordaunt indicated that MPs at Westminster would act if the High Court in Belfast upheld a challenge to the current law.

Ms Mordaunt said the Commons Women and Equalities Committee had received "shocking" evidence about the lack of care available to women in the province seeking a termination.

"The reason why this hasn't been dealt with is because it is a devolved matter and we take devolution seriously," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We are expecting a ruling shortly that what is going on in Northern Ireland is incompatible with an individual's human rights. In every case where there has been a declaration of incompatibility with human rights, the government has acted."

She added: "I think this needs to be resolved. I think the paucity of care that women have endured in Northern Ireland is the most appalling thing. It must change, that is my view."

The current legal challenge has been brought by Sarah Ewart (28), who in 2013 was denied an abortion in Northern Ireland after receiving a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

Her case was brought after the Supreme Court ruled last year Northern Ireland's abortion laws were in breach of human rights laws.

However, the court concluded that the NI Human Rights Commission - which brought the case - did not have the power to bring the proceedings as it was not itself a "victim" of any unlawful act.

Welcoming Ms Mordaunt's comments, Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's NI campaign manager, said: "The comments demonstrate the support within Cabinet for change and will act as a reminder to the next prime minister that the government cannot ignore their responsibilities nor hide from the urgent need for reform."

Ms Ewart, who has brought the legal challenge, said: "We shouldn't have to fight through the courts to have our rights realised.

"Northern Ireland's archaic abortion laws have left women like me suffering far too long."

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