North’s abortion law should be decided by politicians not courts, AG says

‘There are many good reasons to wish Joseph Goebbels had not lived. That he had a club foot isn’t or shouldn’t be one of them’

Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin: “The unborn child whose father is a moral philosopher doesn’t have a greater right to life than she whose father is a rapist.” Photograph: PA

Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin: “The unborn child whose father is a moral philosopher doesn’t have a greater right to life than she whose father is a rapist.” Photograph: PA

 

Northern Ireland’s abortion law should be determined by its politicians and not by the courts, the North’s attorney general John Larkin QC has told the supreme court in London.

Mr Larkin was responding to an application by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) which argues criminalisation of abortion in the case of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

“There seems little doubt that the debate about what the law on abortion in Northern Ireland should be will continue. Litigation may be apt for resolving concrete disputes, but it is inapt for the resolution of larger societal questions,” Mr Larkin told a panel of five judges.

He said there was nothing in the ECHR which required a change in the law, which he defended as striking a proportionate balance between the protection of the rights of women and unborn children.

Life of the mother

“The criminal law in Northern Ireland is a matter for the democratic judgment of the Northern Ireland legislature,” he said.

Mr Larkin said that, unlike the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, the law in Northern Ireland was not based on equality between the unborn child and its mother.

Instead, where the interests of the mother’s life or long-term health are in jeopardy, the life of the mother is preferred.

The attorney general defended the lack of an exception in the case of serious foetal abnormality, rape and incest, arguing that the life of a child who is capable of living even a short time is as worthy of protection as any other.

“There are many good reasons why one might wish that Joseph Goebbels had not lived. That he had a club foot isn’t or shouldn’t be one of them,” he said.

“The unborn child whose father is a moral philosopher doesn’t have a greater right to life than she whose father is a rapist.”

Mr Larkin said unborn children who were so disabled that it was believed they would die shortly after birth were as entitled to life as those regarded as normal or perfect.