N. Irish abortion law review ordered
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- A High Court judge has ordered a judicial review into abortion rights in Northern Ireland, which is not covered by the 1967 legalisation of abortion in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Over the past 20 years, an estimated 40,000 women from Northern Ireland have travelled to Britain for abortions because of confusion over the province's regulations, the Family Planning Association said.
On Wednesday, Mr Justice Kerr said that an application by the association, to force the department to introduce the same termination rights as the rest of the UK, had raised a valid argument.
No date was set for the judicial review, but the health department was given until September 12 to prepare.
Leading human rights lawyer Lord Lester QC, representing the association, is trying to force the Department of Health at Stormont to introduce guidelines on terminations, ending "the unnecessary burden" faced by women in Northern Ireland.
Lord Lester said that Northern Ireland was in a unique situation in not having a detailed statutory regime relating to abortion.
"It is a tradition where the law that regulates this area is 19th century criminal law, statute law and common law," he told the Press Association.
He said the department must begin instructing medical staff to ensure that under European Human Rights legislation women had proper access to termination.
The judicial review application was not just about seeking clarification of the law, but to ensure that women in Northern Ireland received satisfactory service.
Lord Lester denied claims from anti-abortion groups that the Family Planning Association was seeking a change in the law.
"We would not have the standing in these proceedings to seek a cohesive form of rules to require the Secretary of State in London to give the necessary order for the Northern Ireland Assembly to introduce amending legislation similar to the 1967 Abortion Act in England and Wales," he added.
Pro-lifers in Northern Ireland expressed concern at the High Court decision and pledged to fight any changes.
Betty Gibson, Northern Ireland organiser of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said there should be no doubt that the aim of the FPA was to liberalise abortion law in the province.
The organisation said the majority of both unionists and nationalists opposed such liberalisation.
"The FPA is part of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which is committed to introducing abortion on demand throughout the world by all possible means," she told PA.
She added: "By claiming that Northern Ireland's abortion law is in need of clarification, the FPA is employing the same tactic used by pro-abortionists in Britain and elsewhere. However we absolutely reject their claim.
"Abortion law is perfectly clear in Northern Ireland and the vast majority of doctors know exactly what the situation is."
The FPA tactic was a "cynical ploy" which had to be seen for what it was.
"We are deeply concerned by this development and will do all we can to represent the will of Northern Ireland's people by arguing against the FPA's case," she added.
In a separate development, Dutch doctors offering to terminate pregnancies on a ship off the coast of Ireland have no licence for their floating abortion clinic, the Dutch government said on Tuesday.
The Dutch-registered Aurora left the Netherlands on Monday with two doctors and a nurse from a pro-abortion activist group.
They planned to administer abortion pills in international waters outside the 12-mile territorial limit of Ireland, where the practice is illegal.
Health Minister Els Borst told Parliament that the Women on Waves Foundation, which chartered the ship, had applied for a clinic licence but had not yet received it.
Justice Minister Benk Korthals then told the legislature that "abortions are illegal without a licence" and the doctors faced up to four-and-a-half years imprisonment.
But he said he didn't have the authority to act against the crew since no crime had been committed yet.
The ship was expected to reach Dublin later this week.
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