Belfast Telegraph

My bittersweet court victory is a turning point for women here, says Sarah Ewart after abortion legal challenge

By Mairead Holland

Belfast woman Sarah Ewart hugged her mother outside court yesterday after a judge ruled that her human rights had been breached when she was forced to go to England for a termination.

Belfast woman Sarah Ewart hugged her mother outside court yesterday after a judge ruled that her human rights had been breached when she was forced to go to England for a termination.

Mrs Ewart (29), who has campaigned since 2013 to liberalise the law in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, described the ruling as a “massive relief” but a “bittersweet victory”.

She was denied an abortion despite being told at her 20-week scan that her unborn child had anencephaly and would not survive outside the womb.

Then aged in her early 20s and pregnant with her first child, she chose to travel to England for a termination.

The young mother, who has since had two healthy children, said she had never wavered in her determination to see her fight through to the end.

She described the verdict as “a turning point for women in their campaign against the outdated laws prohibiting abortion in Northern Ireland”.

“It should never have had to come to this. Today’s ruling is a vindication of all those women who have fought tirelessly to ensure that we never again have to go through what I did in 2013,” she said.

She added that she hoped women “who find themselves in the circumstances that I found myself in will get the help and the treatment that we need in our hospitals with our own medical teams”.

Monday will be the sixth anniversary of the termination and Mrs Ewart said the verdict was “bittersweet”.

“It will be good to move on. It has been massively stressful for me and my family. I can’t explain how terrified I was six years ago. This was not an easy decision, this was a very much wanted baby,” she said.

Her mother Jane Christie said: “This whole journey could have been so much different. She could have had the remains and a grave, but she doesn’t have that and that’s something she’s going to have to live with.

“I am extremely proud of Sarah. Nobody sees what goes on behind closed doors. It’s been a very long and difficult journey and at the end of the day she has lost a baby and to come through all that and still fight on, she is marvellous.”

Sarah Ewart and her mother Jane Christie outside court yesterday
Sarah Ewart and her mother Jane Christie outside court yesterday

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International, which has supported Mrs Ewart in her legal challenge, said the ruling was a huge win for abortion rights in Northern Ireland.

“The court has spoken — the law is a clear violation of rights,” she said. “Today’s ruling shows just how urgently change is needed so this healthcare can be accessed without having to travel.”

Solicitor Darragh Mackin, who represented Mrs Ewart, added: “This is a hugely significant ruling in our client’s campaign against the discriminatory and archaic laws that have denied the rights of many.”

Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, which also supported Mrs Ewart’s case, welcomed the court’s decision and commended her bravery.

Chief executive of Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), Nola Leach, said the charity recognised the tragic circumstances involved in the case and respected the judgment of the court.

But she added that the ruling relates to a “very, very small number of complex cases” and “in no way justifies the sweeping changes that will be imposed on the people of Northern Ireland if the Assembly is not restored by 21 October”.

Charity Life said it was “deeply disappointed” at the ruling.

Its spokesperson Aisling Dundee said women who find themselves in the same “heartbreaking position” as Mrs Ewart did “need robust perinatal support in order to deal with the physical and emotional agony of losing a child”.

“In our experience, the intrusion and tragedy of an abortion only adds to the trauma of their ordeal and is neither a humane nor compassionate solution,” she added.

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said: “There is now an urgent need for reform of the legislation to provide the option of abortion where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and without specific indication for a limited gestational period so that cases of sexual crime can be dealt with in a compassionate manner.”

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said: “It is crucially important that we remember that the High Court judgment made today referred to a narrow set of circumstances. The judgment in no way found that there is a requirement under the European Convention of Human Rights to allow for abortion on request for any reason up to the point of viability.

“There is no human right to abortion on request.”

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