Northern Ireland Court Allows Pro-Life Group to Sue Over Abortion Guidelines

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 27, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Northern Ireland Court Allows Pro-Life Group to Sue Over Abortion Guidelines

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 27
, 2010

Belfast, Northern Ireland ( — A Northern Ireland court has granted leave to the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) for a full legal challenge of the decision by the NI health department to re-issue controversial guidance on abortion. The court decision came despite the health department’s attempt to have the case dismissed.

Although the Northern Ireland health department lost a previous court case after pro-life groups challenged its abortion rules, the department released them again in February.

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) chose to re-release the abortion guidelines after the High Court ordered the health department late last year to withdraw them.

In its new case, SPUC argued that the publication of the guidance in its current form was perverse, and contravened that November 30 court order for the document’s withdrawal.

Following the success of SPUC’s previous judicial review, the department sought permission to withdraw only the sections of the guidance dealing with counseling and the rights of medical staff to non-participation in abortion. Those sections were heavily criticized by Lord Justice Girvan in the November decision. He ruled that the issues in the guidance were inter-related, that the guidance must therefore be withdrawn in its entirety and reconsidered.

Attorney James Dingemans representing SPUC at today’s hearing, argued that the department’s decision effectively ignoring last year’s ruling was “simply impermissible and irrational”.

Mr Justice Treacy said that SPUC’s application had more than exceeded the threshold necessary for the challenge to go to the next stage of a full judicial review.

Liam Gibson of SPUC Northern Ireland, speaking outside the high court, responded to the decision.

"Today’s events are yet more evidence of the bitter and irrational approach taken by the department of health to the issue of abortion guidance. At the very last minute the department asked the judge for an adjournment but refused to give any reasons for a four-week delay," he said in a statement provided to

He added, "Sadly, this is the way the department has behaved all along. It has disregarded public opinion, the will of the Assembly, the Stormont health committee and even the high court, in order to pursue an agenda of widening the scope for abortion in Northern Ireland."

“We don’t believe that the department has given any serious consideration to the ruling made by Lord Justice Girvan last year. A document that says nothing about counseling of women or the rights of medical staff cannot possibly provide adequate guidance to doctors. Naturally, we’re pleased that Mr Justice Treacy has granted leave for the case to proceed”, said Gibson.

Lord Justice Girvan ruled against the department’s guidance on two grounds: 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.

The other argument said the guidance was wrong regarding the rights of health professionals to non-participation in abortion (conscientious objection).

Lord Justice Girvan confirmed that the guidance should be withdrawn in whole and not merely in part.

The organization says the guidelines, which explain the rare circumstances when abortions can be legally done, could be used to legalize abortion 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 health department reported in December 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 2009, 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.

Related web sites:
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