North abortion ruling to force change in the Republic

Pro-choice campaigners have hailed a “historic” judgment in the North yesterday as the basis for a more liberal abortion regime here.

The judgment by the High Court in Belfast — that an outright ban on abortion in the North breaches human rights legislation — will see pressure increase on all political parties to deliver change south of the border as part of their general election manifestos.

The judgment by Mr Justice Mark Horner has added to the momentum for change in the Republic, which has built in recent weeks since Children’s Minister James Reilly called for the country’s law to be relaxed to permit abortions in cases of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormality.

Writing in today’s Irish Examiner, Ivana Bacik, a Labour senator and leading pro-choice advocate, says Ireland’s abortion laws are in breach of women’s rights to privacy, adding that the Constitution is not the appropriate place to govern the rules on abortion.

“The Constitution is no place to regulate abortion,” writes Ms Bacik. “Only repeal of the Eighth Amendment, and its replacement with compassionate legislation, would ensure that women’s rights are secured. We shouldn’t need a Horner judgment to tell us that the Eighth Amendment breaches women’s human rights — let’s move to repeal it now.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny surprised many in Fine Gael last week when he committed to holding a People’s Convention next year on repealing the Eighth Amendment, which guarantees an equal right to life to a mother and her unborn child.

Reacting to yesterday’s judgment, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said the Labour Party has been the party which has driven social change in Ireland and is at the fore of wanting the Eighth Amendment repealed.

Mr Howlin said the public debate in the coming months must be handled with sensitivity. He said: “We have to look after our own affairs and do it in a mature way. These are very sensitive issues for people.”

However, pro-life campaigners last night voiced their anger and disappointment at the judgment.

Ruth Cullen of the Pro Life Campaign said the judgment is a “frightening development”.

“[The judge’s] comments fly in the face of all the evidence and are deeply hurtful to families of babies diagnosed with life-shortening conditions,” said Ms Cullen.

“The judge in this case has set the value of the unborn child at zero and ignored the well-documented negative after-effects of abortion for many women.”

The landmark judgment delivered to Belfast High Court could see a relaxation in laws prohibiting women accessing terminations in cases of rape, incest, or where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

The case was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

The North’s attorney general, John Larkin, has expressed “profound disappointment” at the ruling and said he is considering grounds for appeal.

The Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland said in a statement last night that it was “profoundly disquieting” that the decision of the High Court in Belfast “has effectively weighed up one life against another and said to our society that the life of some children is more worthy of our protection, love and care than others”.

The statement said the Church “will continue to consider the implications of the judgement of the High Court in Belfast and of any appeal which may follow”.

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