Northern Ireland Withdraws Abortion Guidelines Pro-Life Groups Condemned

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 13, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Northern Ireland Withdraws Abortion Guidelines Pro-Life Groups Condemned

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 13
, 2010

Belfast, Northern Ireland ( — The Northern Ireland health department has withdrawn the controversial abortion guidelines pro-life groups condemned. The guidelines, which explain the rare circumstances when abortions can be legally done, could be used to legalize abortion through the back door the pro-life organizations said.

In May, a Northern Ireland court 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.

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.

In a letter to Jim Wells, chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s health committee, the department has announced that it has withdrawn its interim guidance on abortion.

The department also said it is launching a public consultation on the guidance.

Liam Gibson of SPUC in Northern Ireland, told in a statement: "We are very pleased that the health minister has withdrawn the interim guidance. This was the aim of the SPUC’s application for a judicial review, due to be heard in September."

"The health minister has done the sensible thing by withdrawing the guidance. Otherwise he would have been ordered by the courts for a second time to withdraw it," Gibson said.

"When we challenged the original guidance in the High Court last year, the judge rejected a request from the department that it should be allowed to withdraw only the sections on counseling and conscientious objection. Health officials simply ignored this ruling. They quickly re-published the guidance with those sections left out. Otherwise the document was unchanged," he explained.

Gibson said the information given to women and the rights of medical personnel are central to clinical practice.

"We believe that any guidance which says nothing about these issues is fundamentally flawed, and should never have been published. The department finally seems to have accepted that," he said.

Gibson said pro-life advocates believed the health department appeared determined to pursue its own agenda, rather than apply the law.

"We will be working closely with pro-life members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and its health committee to ensure that the department’s consultation does not result in the rights of women, unborn children or the medical profession being undermined," he concluded.

In its 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 the May 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.

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.

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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