Supreme Court considers Northern Ireland's abortion law

24 October 2017, 01:15

Northern Ireland's strict abortion law is being scrutinised by the UK's highest court today.

The Supreme Court is hearing the claim that barring victims of sexual crimes and women carrying foetuses with fatal abnormalities from terminations breaches human rights.

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland unless there is a direct threat to the mother's life.

It means women have to travel to Great Britain for the procedure to avoid breaking the law.

Amnesty International is one of the groups supporting the challenge.

Spokesperson Grainne Teggart told Sky News: "I've been working with women who in very difficult circumstance have had to board a plane, away from their families and friends to access healthcare they should be entitled to here at home.

"Travelling only adds to the trauma that women experience and politicians have for too long been shirking their responsibilities to women which is why we've had to take our fight to the courts."

In 2015, Belfast's high court ruled the law breached the rights of women in cases of fatal abnormalities, or women who were pregnant following rape or incest.

That ruling was overturned in June 2017, so the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is taking its case to the Supreme Court.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented: "This case has the opportunity to bring about a real change to the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland.

"The Commission began its legal challenge in 2015 as we want women and girls in Northern Ireland to have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest, without getting a criminal record or facing going to prison."

Liam Gibson, from Northern Ireland's Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, believes the current law should remain.

"Abortion is not healthcare," he said. "It's an act of lethal violence directed at an unborn child.

"That child is innocent regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception, regardless of his disabilities or imperfections and we're hoping the Supreme Court will uphold the decision made by the court of appeal in Belfast."

724 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England for abortion care in 2016.

Sarah Ewart had to make the same journey several years ago after being told her baby had a fatal defect and wouldn't survive birth.

She believes women's lives are being put at risk.

"It's not about being pro-life or pro-choice, it's about a medical procedure and it's about giving a woman the help when she decides she can't carry on with her pregnancy," she said.

The hearing is expected to last three days.