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NI court hears legal challenge against 'unconstitutional' abortion regulations

4 October 2021
63592285 attorney general john larkin at high court 006

Former NI Attorney General John Larkin

Campaigners challenging the implementation of abortion legislation in Northern Ireland are presenting their case to judges at Belfast’s High Court this week.

Pro-life organisation SPUC, represented by former NI Attorney General John Larkin QC, argues that a UK Government order mandating the provision of abortion services across NI by March 2022 is “unconstitutional”.

The challenge by SPUC notes that abortion is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland and argues that the order from UK Ministers, issued in July this year, contravenes the terms of the devolution settlement.

Speaking this morning as proceedings got under way Liam Gibson, SPUC Policy and Legal Officer, said: “The Northern Ireland Office’s high-handed attitude threatens to inflict a fatal blow on the devolution settlement”.

“Westminster has shown nothing but disdain for the views of the people of Northern Ireland…By supporting our legal action, people will be speaking out against these illegitimate and unconstitutional regulations”.

He added: “We’re also calling on men and women from all political backgrounds, faiths and traditions who value devolution to join us in calling on the Westminster government to stop dictating and start listening.”

CARE Intervention

CARE is supporting a further intervention in proceedings by a private citizen, Rosaleen McElhinney, who will challenge two separate aspects of NI abortion law.

Ms McElhinney, whose 15-year-old daughter Cara Rose has Down’s Syndrome, argues that the abortion framework imposed by the UK Government on Northern Ireland in 2019 allows unlawful discrimination on the grounds of disability.

The mother also argues that the order issued by UK Ministers this year is not lawful as it was not subject to proper consultation.

Nola Leach, CEO of CARE, commented:

“We are privileged to stand with Rosaleen as she raises substantive points on the controversial NI abortion framework. Rosaleen is especially concerned about the message the new law sends about disabled children like her beautiful daughter, Cara Rose.

“In allowing abortion up to birth for disabled babies – far beyond the 24-week limit for other preborn babies – it implies that disabled lives have less value. This regressive and discriminatory policy should have no place in Northern Ireland or any other part of the UK.

“Like other NI citizens, Rosaleen is also alarmed by diktats from UK Government Ministers seeking to bypass the NI devolution settlement. Abortion was imposed on Northern Ireland from afar when its Assembly and Executive was in crisis. This contempt for devolution would never be shown towards the devolved administrations of Scotland or Wales. Legislators in other parts of the UK should be concerned by the precedent set by this kind of intervention.”

Background to NI abortion law

Abortion was legalised in NI in 2019 via a cynical amendment to Westminster legislation – the NI Executive Formation Bill – when the Northern Ireland Executive was not functioning.

Under the new law, abortion is legal for any reason up to 12 weeks, on demand up to 24 weeks, and right top to birth for 'serious disabilities'. This makes it the most radical abortion law on paper anywhere in the UK.

However, health trusts in NI have only been carrying out abortions in a limited capacity due to the NI Executive’s refusal to commission services. In May this year, a legal case undertaken by the NI Human Rights Commission sought to force the commissioning of services.

The SPUC case seeks to ensure that a decision over the commissioning of services rests with the NI Executive. The results of both cases will take several months to be handed down.

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In any pregnancy, both the woman and preborn baby have inherent value and dignity, by virtue of being made in the image of God. CARE is passionately pro-woman and pro-life.

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