BELFAST, Northern Ireland — A new legal challenge has been mounted to Northern Ireland’s abortion law calling it incompatible with human rights because it does not allow abortion in cases where the unborn baby has a fatal abnormality. Pro-life advocates are arguing that abortion is not the compassionate choice, even in the most difficult circumstances.
“We can and will do so much better for women and their children in Northern Ireland than offering them the barbaric violence, distress and heartbreak of abortion,” said Bernadette Smyth, director of the Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life.
“Those working to overturn our legal protections for the unborn are attempting to make abortion appear to be a compassionate response to a woman facing a poor diagnosis for her unborn baby,” she said Oct. 2.
The plaintiff is seeking a high court decision against the current restrictions. Sarah Ewart travelled from Belfast to England for an abortion after a 20-week ultrasound scan led to a diagnosis of anencephaly for her baby, the Irish Times reports. The condition means the baby’s brain and skull do not develop and causes death either before birth or shortly afterwards.
“Pregnancy should be a happy time, whereas it has been a scary time for me, every scan I went to, I feared,” Ewart told the Press Association.
“Five years ago, I didn’t think I would still be fighting now, but we are going to go all the way, we are part of the U.K., the same laws should apply here,” she said.
Ewart now has two children and would like to have more, but said this was daunting given that doctors have told her she faces a risk of a similar pregnancy.
Smyth, however, thought the case for legal abortion was misleading.
“People are being fooled into thinking that abortion is a humane answer for a baby who is not going to survive for long after birth,” she said. “The heart-breaking reality however is that these late term abortions for babies with life-limiting conditions literally tear these babies apart in the womb, and so often leave women suffering with long-term grief, regret, anxiety and other mental health problems caused by the abortion and their knowledge that their baby’s death was a chosen one.”
Abortion is allowed in Northern Ireland only if the mother’s life is at risk, or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.
In June, the U.K. Supreme Court threw out a previous challenge to Northern Ireland’s abortion law, saying the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which brought the case, did not have standing to do so. However, a majority of the judges said that the Northern Ireland abortion law framework is incompatible with human rights laws insofar as it bars abortion in cases of pregnancy by rape or incest or in cases of fetal abnormality. The U.K. government has so far not legislated any change.
Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland campaigns manager for Amnesty International, said that taking the case to the Belfast high court should secure the necessary declaration that Northern Ireland’s abortion law violates human rights as they are enshrined in national legislation for the United Kingdom.
Teggart said Ewart and other women should not have to go through the courts.
“The U.K. government has the power to change the law now and bring an end to the suffering of women here,” she said.
Precious Life said that Ewart “should have been offered real care and options, such as the loving support system of perinatal hospice care.”
“This service gives families the precious time they need with their sick babies, and gives these babies the dignity and love they deserve, no matter how short their lives may be.”
The pro-life group said that at 20 weeks into pregnancy, babies are close to surviving outside the womb. “Babies do not deserve to be killed so barbarically for any reason, or simply because they have a disability,” said the group.
“We must work to inform the people of Northern Ireland about the reality of abortion and what happens in the abortion procedure.”
Precious Life stressed the need to educate Northern Ireland about “what really happens in the abortion procedure.” The organization said that during a late-term abortion – between 15 and 24 weeks – the unborn baby’s body parts are “pulled apart piece by piece with a long-toothed clamp and removed.”
“The baby’s head is grasped and crushed in order to remove through the mother’s cervix,” it added.
In an induced labor abortion, potassium chloride is injected into the baby to stop its heartbeat before delivery.
“If aborted alive, the baby will be left to die,” said the group. It cited National Health Service statistics estimating that in Britain, 66 babies a year are “left to die after late-term abortions gone wrong.”
“This is not healthcare. This is not compassion. This is cold-blooded killing,” Precious Life said. It urged the people of Northern Ireland to “continue to stand with us as a light in the darkness and a voice for unborn babies and their mothers who deserve all the help, love and support we can offer to encourage them to choose life.”
Northern Ireland’s abortion law could be taken up by either the Northern Ireland Assembly or the U.K. Parliament, but the Northern Ireland government is currently suspended due to disagreements between the two major governing parties.
The Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party in Northern Ireland and a key supporter of the U.K.’s Conservative government, is opposed to changing the law. Sinn Féin, a nationalist party largely supported by Catholics, backs a law that permits abortion.
In the neighboring Republic of Ireland, constitutional protections for the unborn were repealed following a May referendum. Lawmakers there have said they will work to pass taxpayer-funded abortion and implement legislation that will prevent Catholic-run hospitals from objecting to performing abortions.