15:07, January 30 77 0 theguardian.com

2019-01-30 15:07:07
Northern Ireland abortion case hears traumatic experience

A court in Belfast has heard one woman’s traumatic experience of seeking an abortion after receiving a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

Sarah Ewart, 28, who was refused the procedure in Northern Ireland in 2013 owing to the region’s near blanket ban on terminations, was harangued by anti-abortion protesters and felt like “part of a conveyor belt” when she travelled to a clinic in London to end her pregnancy, the high court in Belfast heard.

Ewart said she was refused advice on how to seek a termination, and that her medical records were not sent to the clinic. She described the experience as leaving her feeling “vulnerable and humiliated”.

Last year, the supreme court said Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breached human rights laws. But the ruling also stated that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), which brought that case, did not have the power to bring forward proceedings because it was not a victim of an unlawful act.

Ewart has brought an individual case to the high court in hope of securing a formal declaration that Northern Ireland is violating the European convention on human rights.

Adam Straw, representing Ewart, said the prohibition of abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) was incompatible with the convention.

“I respectfully invite this court to follow the lead of the supreme court,” he said.

Straw outlined that there was “compelling evidence of serious impact” on women who carry a pregnancy with fatal foetal abnormalities to full term. He referred to evidence given to the the justices by Prof James Dornan, the director of foetal medicine at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Service in Belfast that there was a risk of sepsis to the mother and also “significant risks” to the mental health of a woman continuing a pregnancy knowing that the foetus could die at any moment.

Straw also referred to Ewart’s experience. He said the respondents in the case – Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice and Department of Health – and the executive committee had failed to amend the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945, which makes carrying out an abortion an illegal act.

An application to add the executive committee as a respondent was not successful.

Tony McGleenan QC, acting for the two departments, argued they did all they could when it came to the question of new abortion legislation.

He outlined how a working group on FFA was set up to examine the matter after an debate in the Northern Ireland assembly in 2016.

The group compiled a report, published internally in October 2016, which recommended a change in the law.

McGleenan said the next step would have been the production of a common paper for the first and deputy first ministers but because of the absence of government since collapse of the power-sharing agreement in 2017 this did not happen.

. Both pro-choice and anti-abortion campaigners gathered outside the high court on Wednesday morning before the hearing.



Ewart described the experience of going to court as “really nerve-wracking”, but added: “I am really hopeful that the high court listens to what the supreme court has previously said – that women here [in Northern Ireland] who find themselves in the circumstances that I found myself in will get the help and the treatment that we need in our hospitals with our own medical teams.”

She is being supported by Amnesty International, one of five intervenors in the case. The others are the NIHRC, Humanists UK, the Centre for Reproductive Rights and Precious Life.

Bernie Smyth, from anti-abortion group Precious Life, said: “We are saying this is barbaric, it is wrong and it should never be introduced here in Northern Ireland.”

Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty, said the Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley, should have moved to change the law before now.

The case is being heard byMrs Justice Siobhan Keegan and is expected to conclude on Thursday

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