Northern Ireland Court OKs Pro-Life Group’s Challenge of Govt’s Abortion Rules
by Steven Ertelt
November 30, 2009
Belfast, Northern Ireland (LifeNews.com) — The Belfast high court has approved a pro-life group’s challenge of the rules for when abortion can be done in Northern Ireland. The abortion guidelines the health department released in March drew a challenge from the British pro-life group SPUC.
The organization says the guidelines, which explain the rare circumstances when abortions can be legally done, could be used to legalize abortions through the back door.
Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of Great Britain, does not allow abortions and makes them available only when the life of the mother is at risk.
The new document says abortions can be done for two reasons: to "preserve the life of the woman" or if a physician determines continuing the pregnancy will impose "a risk of real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long-term or permanent."
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, a pro-life group that operates in Great Britain, challenged the guidelines in court and, today, Lord Justice Girvan ruled in favor of SPUC’s challenge on two grounds.
SPUC argued that because abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, it was wrong to expect medical providers to give non-directive counseling to women who might be considering abortion.
SPUC also argued that the government’s guidance was wrong regarding non-participation in abortion (conscientious objection).
Judge Girvan ruled in favor of SPUC on these points and awarded costs against the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
Liam Gibson of SPUC Northern Ireland told LifeNews.com, "We are very pleased that the court has highlighted some of the problems with the health department’s abortion guidance. 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. It is simply extraordinary that a government department should have issued guidance on criminal legislation and not have once mentioned the victim of the crime," he said. "In illegal abortion the primary victim is the unborn child and any new guidance that the department brings forward needs to take fully into account the duty of care and the legal protection owed to the child before birth."
Gibson continued: "Abortion doesn’t only kill children it also hurts women. There is a huge amount of evidence that abortion can damage the physical and mental health of women."
"If the department is serious about providing aftercare for women hurt by abortion then health officials cannot continue to ignore the evidence of post-abortion trauma. More needs to be done to warn women of the consequences of abortion but there has to be more help for women facing a crisis pregnancy as well," he said.
"The law in Northern Ireland protects both women and children and new guidance must reflect that," he concluded.
At the time the guidelines were released, Bernadette Smyth, the director of Precious Life, told LifeNews.com she is concerned.
These guidelines are skewed in favor of performing, rather than not performing abortions," she said. "The laws that protect unborn children in Northern Ireland are very clear. Killing an unborn child is illegal and a criminal offence."
"The guidelines fail to distinguish between direct abortion – when the child is intentionally killed – and indirect abortion – when the child dies unintentionally as a result of the mother receiving life-saving medical treatment," she explained.
The health department recently reported that legal abortions carried out in Northern Ireland averaged almost two per week last year.
Official figures released in response to an assembly question asked by SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey revealed that 92 women had abortions in 2008. Some 79 women underwent an abortion in Northern Ireland the previous year.
In May, a Department of Health report revealed that 1,173 women had traveled to England to have an abortion last year, in comparison to 1,343 for 2007.
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