08:53, October 26 65 0 theguardian.com

2017-10-26 08:53:03
NI government report recommended abortion reforms a year ago

Abortion reform in Northern Ireland was recommended by a Stormont executive report kept under wraps for almost a year, a lawyer for the suspended administration has revealed in the supreme court.

The lawyer admitted that a working group set up by the departments of justice and health in Belfast concluded that abortion should be made available in Northern Irish hospitals in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The findings of the report, drawn up more than a year ago, were not published until Thursday’s supreme court hearing on the abortion ban in Northern Ireland.

A senior crown counsel for the Department of Justice in Belfast told the hearing in London that the report did recommend a loosening of the strict abortion ban in the region in terms of fatal foetal abnormality.

This is the final day of the supreme court case taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. It is arguing that in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and where victims are made pregnant through sex crimes, the near-total ban on abortion in the region is a breach of women’s human rights.

Amnesty International and the cross-community Alliance party welcomed the revelation that the long-awaited report into the plight of women with fatal foetal abnormalities came out in favour of abortion reform.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaigns manager, said the secrecy surrounding the departments of justice and health’s report “has just crumbled” in the supreme court.

“The absence of a minister or an executive must not be used as an excuse to stifle informed public debate,” she said. “This report deals with an issue of vital public interest and should be published without further delay.”

Amnesty is backing Sarah Ewart, whose first pregnancy was given a fatal foetal diagnosis, had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy.

Alliance party Northern Ireland assembly member Paula Bradshaw welcomed the revelation over the report’s findings.

“When David Ford was justice minister, he consulted into this matter and the findings recommended a change in the law, which was subsequently blocked by the DUP. The working group’s recommendation was leaked to the media almost a year ago and it is welcome we now have further clarity from the department, which should now be followed,” she said.

Bradshaw continued: “It is disappointing neither the former justice or health ministers Claire Sugden and Michelle O’Neill released the report’s recommendation publicly but this sets out clearly it should be followed. It is now evident the Department of Justice should now be looking for ways to implement it on human rights grounds.

“It remains frustrating we have no current means to have this issue properly debated in the legislature, which is where action on this would normally be taken. Those delaying the restoration of the institutions must now reflect any further delay means in effect a clear breach of women’s human rights, and it is thus ludicrous to delay restoration any further.”

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where abortion in almost all cases is illegal.

The termination of pregnancy is available in Northern Ireland’s hospitals only if it is necessary to preserve a woman’s life. This includes where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is long term or permanent.

Northern Ireland has the harshest criminal penalty for abortion of any country in Europe, with the potential for life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully procures or performs a termination.

The supreme court is expected to deliberate for several months before it rules on the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission assertion that the ban on abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest breach women’s fundamental rights.