Anti-abortion group wins NI case

Mon, Nov 30, 2009, 00:00

The official guidelines on abortion in the North must be withdrawn, Belfast’s High Court ruled today.

The court found the current advice on terminating pregnancies failed to give clear guidance in the areas of "counselling and conscientious objection”.

In his ruling, Lord Justice Girvan, however, stopped short of quashing the document issued by the North’s department of health in March.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Spuc) brought judicial review proceedings in a bid to win a declaration that the decision to publish the advice was unlawful.

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland, except in circumstances where the mother’s life or mental well being are considered at risk.

Spuc wanted the High Court to declare that what has been produced does not properly set out the law.

Lawyers for the group claimed the guidance also fails to deal with the rights of the unborn child and provides inadequate advice for conscientious objectors within the medical profession.

The department’s legal representatives rejected allegations it had failed to make clear that abortion was illegal in Northern Ireland apart from in the most exceptional circumstances.

It was also stressed that the document was for health workers rather than the general public.

But Lord Justice Girvan held that the section in the guidance on counselling needs to be reconsidered because it is unclear and could lead to the adoption of potentially unlawful procedures.

Following today’s judgment Liam Gibson of SPUC Northern Ireland said "we are very pleased that the court has highlighted some of the problems with the health department’s abortion guidance".

Mr Gibson said “we hope that the department will now take seriously many of the concerns which were largely disregarded when the guidelines were being drafted.”

"Abortion is not health care. In Northern Ireland it is a criminal offence,” he said.