Today Sarah Ewart and her mum Jane Christie will return to the High Court in Belfast where we hope they will finally get the judgement they deserve, that Northern Ireland’s law on abortion has breached Sarah's human rights. Naomi Connor from Alliance for Choice said,
“Sarah Ewart and her mother have been battling this injustice for almost a decade, after Sarah was forced to travel to England for a termination when she received a diagnosis of a severe foetal abnormality. Yet still, in 2019 families with devastating news are forced to grapple with the logistics and arrangements themselves, with no dedicated care team, no clear path to the aftercare and support available in Northern Ireland, but worst of all with the prospect of not being able to bring the remains home for burial.”
Alliance for Choice hopes that the High Court will recognise that ordeals such as Sarah’s are grave and systematic abuse. Alliance for Choice has witnessed incredible women such as Sarah, Ashleigh Topley and Denise Phelan be re-traumatised by a legal process that was too long, unsatisfying, invasive and frustrating with an earlier case that failed on a technicality in the Supreme Court. We hope that today's judgement will bring Sarah's ordeal to an end.
As well as justice today for Sarah Ewart and every person that may ever need an abortion for medical reasons, we are also urging the Northern Ireland Office and our local politicians to ensure we are ready for the implementation of abortion legislation after 21st October.
Sarah’s case was launched following a UK Supreme Court judgment in June 2018. The UK’s Supreme Court could not issue a formal declaration of incompatibility due to a legal technicality that meant the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission weren’t deemed able to bring the case. If the Belfast High Court find a declaration of incompatibility then cases where abortion is required for severe foetal abnormalities will be finally be legal in Northern Ireland.
In June 2018, the UK Supreme Court dismissed an appeal against the law on abortion in Northern Ireland on the grounds that the body which brought the case, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, did not have standing to do so. Although the Court therefore did not make a formal declaration of incompatibility (which would require the UK Government to take action), a majority of the judges stated their view that the laws are incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights—on respect for private and family life—in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.
In Northern Ireland, abortion is only legal in circumstances where the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy poses a serious, permanent or long-term risk to her health and wellbeing.
A report by a working group commissioned by the former Health and Justice Ministers in Northern Ireland, published in April 2018, recommended that the law should be changed to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn tabled amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill. These amendments would allow for the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland, and provision for same sex marriage as long as the Stormont Assembly has not filled all Executive positions by 21st Oct.
In 2016, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women conducted an inquiry on the subject of access to abortion in Northern Ireland. It concluded that the rights of women in Northern Ireland were being violated by restrictions on access to abortion, and argued that devolution of power over criminal law to the Northern Ireland Assembly did not remove the responsibility of the UK Government for this matter.
“Denial of abortion and criminalization of abortion amounts to discrimination against women because it is a denial of a service that only women need. And it puts women in horrific situations,” said Halperin-Kaddari, a law professor specializing in international women’s rights. Women’s mental anguish was exacerbated when they were forced to carry to term a non-viable foetus (in cases of fatal foetal abnormality) or where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, she continued, adding that forcing a woman to continue with her pregnancy in such a situation amounted to unjustifiable State-sanctioned violence.”