Fresh legal challenge against abortion laws in North is mounted

Woman who travelled for termination wants fatal foetal abnormality seeks judicial review

Sarah Ewart (right) and her mother Jane Christie outside the court in Belfast to seek a declaration of incompatibility with human rights law in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A fresh legal challenge against Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws has been mounted.

Sarah Ewart is applying for a judicial review, seeking a declaration of incompatibility with human rights law in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

Five years ago, Ms Ewart travelled from Northern Ireland for a termination in England after a 20-week scan revealed her baby had anencephaly, which meant its brain and skull had not developed and it would either die before being born or shortly afterwards.

Abortions in Northern Ireland are illegal in all but exceptional medical and mental health circumstances.


The UK government has resisted calls to step in to legislate for reform in the wake of a recent supreme court judgment that found the current legal framework incompatible with human rights laws.

In June, a majority of supreme court judges said the ban on terminations in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality needed “radical reconsideration”.

Ms Ewart attended Belfast high court on Monday morning to seek leave to apply for a judicial review of the current laws.

There are four respondents in the case, Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Karen Bradley, Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice, the Department of Health and the Executive Committee.

The case, which is being heard by Mr Justice McCloskey, started on Monday morning and has been postponed until Friday over paperwork issues.

Green Party South Belfast MLA Clare Bailey was among the supporters who turned up to the courtroom for the hearing.

Speaking outside court, accompanied by her mother Jane Christie and Amnesty International NI campaigns manager Grainne Teggart, Ms Ewart said she was encouraged that after five years the case is being heard.

“We are encouraged by what the supreme court said, that Justice McCloskey realises this is an urgent matter and we are going back in four days,” Ms Ewart told the Press Association.

“Four days, after five years, that’s OK.

“Five years ago, I didn’t think I would still be fighting now, but we are going to go all the way, we are part of the UK, the same laws should apply here.

“My wee daughter’s anniversary is this weekend, so let’s just hope we can get this sorted, and get medical care at home.”

Ms Ewart has two children and says her family is not finished yet but that the prospect for her of another pregnancy is daunting with the laws in Northern Ireland as they currently are.

“Doctors have told me that I am at high risk of the same thing happening again, I just want the reassurance that if it happens again, I can get the advice and support I need,” she said.

“Pregnancy should be a happy time, whereas it has been a scary time for me, every scan I went to, I feared. They were not easy pregnancies to say the least, we carefully planned and monitored every stage.

“The law needs changing, we have no government here, the ecretary of State needs to step up and help, she is punishing us by not helping us.”

Ms Teggart said: “The UK supreme court judges spoke loud and clear when they ruled that the UK government was in breach of its own human rights commitments by denying access to abortion in Northern Ireland in these cases.

“It was just a legal technicality that prevented them from making the final ruling. By taking the case to the Belfast high court we should get the formal legal declaration that Northern Ireland’s abortion law is in violation of the UK’s human rights obligations.

“Sarah and other women should not be forced to go through the courts to have their rights realised. The UK government has the power to change the law now and bring an end to the suffering of women here.”–PA