Northern Ireland

Abortion ordeal woman Sarah Ewart: I hope no-one else endures same trauma

Sarah Ewart travelled to England to access termination services. 
Sarah Ewart travelled to England to access termination services. 

A woman whose experience shone a public spotlight on the contentious issue of abortion has said she hopes the court ruling will mean no one else will have to endure the same trauma.

Sarah Ewart's first pregnancy was diagnosed, at 20 weeks, with anencephaly, a malformation of the brain and skull which meant there was no chance of survival outside the womb and she risked being poisoned if the foetus died in utero.

In 2013, Ms Ewart went public about having to travel to England to access termination services.

She said: "I hope that today's ruling means that I, and other women like me, will no longer have to go through the pain I experienced, of having to travel to England, away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me, to access the healthcare I needed.

"I, and many women like me have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women's behalf.

"I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare."

Ms Ewart's mother Jane Christie was present at Belfast High Court to hear the landmark judgment.

Speaking outside, she said it was a "relief" for women in difficult circumstances.

Ms Christie said: "For women like Sarah it's not delight but sheer relief that they are actually going to get the medical help that they need at long last and they can move on with their families and just have the right medical treatment that the should have had from the outset.

"It has been a very long journey."

Amnesty International was a third party intervener in the high profile case.

Grainne Teggart, campaign manager for Amnesty's My Body My Rights campaign, said the region's laws on abortion were outdated.

She said: "Today's High Court decision is a hugely significant step towards ensuring the right to access abortion for women and girls in Northern Ireland who have been raped, are victims of incest or whose pregnancies have been given a fatal foetal diagnosis.

"Northern Ireland's laws on abortion date back to the 19th century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe.

"Today's court decision is a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland Executive's failure to prioritise women's healthcare. It's shameful that the courts have had to step in because politicians have repeatedly failed Northern Ireland's women.

"Northern Ireland's abortion laws must be brought into the 21st century and into line with international law as a matter of urgency."

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, has welcomed the ruling.

She said: "This judgment recognises the right to autonomy and privacy of pregnant women with a diagnosis of fatal foetal anomaly and those who are victims of a sexual crime.

"We welcome this ruling - and look forward to the day when the autonomy of all women in Northern Ireland is similarly acknowledged."

Meanwhile, pro life campaigner Bernadette Smyth argued that better support and care services should be provided for women who have been victims of sexual crime.

She said: "Killing a child in any circumstances is always wrong."

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said his party would have to "study the judgment".

He said: "We note the judgment on abortion legislation in the north and will study it fully.

"This is an emotive issue and Mr Justice Horner's ruling demands a thorough assessment. We will comment on it in due course. "

The Family Planning Association, which offers advice to women with crisis pregnancies, described the judgement as a "progressive step".

Northern Ireland director Mark Breslin said: "We still have a long way to go and I hope that the changes today open up a wider discussion on abortion law; this needs to be urgently addressed in its totality."

Breedagh Hughes, director for Northern Ireland at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said the ruling provided legal protection for medical professionals who have been in a "difficult position" for a "long time".

She said: "This decision is a very sensible one, and it will help to prevent a great deal of suffering for many women.

"It is a pity that it took a court judgment to do what the Assembly should have done a long time ago, as it will of course not help those women who have suffered because of it in the past."