Northern Ireland news

Co Antrim woman ends legal action over abortion guidelines

A Co Antrim woman who had two pregnancies terminated has ended a legal challenge against the Department of Health
Staff Reporter

A Co Antrim woman who had two pregnancies terminated is to end her legal action over new guidelines on abortion in Northern Ireland.

With the Department of Health having published revised guidelines last month, her lawyers said she had achieved her goal in the proceedings.

They are now set to argue that she should be awarded costs for bringing the challenge.

The woman had sought a judicial review of the department's alleged continued failure to issue the new guidance to medical professionals.

She claimed the delay compounded the trauma of losing her babies.

Last year a High Court judge ruled that abortion legislation in Northern Ireland is in breach of human rights law.

Terminations are currently only allowed if the mother's life or mental well-being are considered at risk.

But a landmark judicial review found the failure to provide exceptions to the ban for pregnant women in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or resulting from a sex crime breached their rights to private and family life.

Stormont's justice minister David Ford and Attorney General John Larkin are set to appeal that verdict in June.

Separate litigation was brought by the woman from Co Antrim.

Granted anonymity in the case, in 2013 she had to travel to a clinic in England to terminate twins with fatal foetal abnormalities.

Staff at a Belfast hospital believed they were unable to carry out the abortion due to uncertainty around the law, according to papers in the case.

Last year, after proceedings were commenced, she again discovered that a second pregnancy was also non-viable.

On that occasion, however, she was able to have an abortion at another hospital in Belfast.

Consultants decided that continuing with the pregnancy could have serious consequences for her mental health.

In her challenge, she claimed there was a legitimate expectation that the guidelines would be published in final form.

But at the High Court on Friday her barrister, Frank O'Donoghue, indicated that the publication of the guidance meant she had secured the relief sought.

Following the brief hearing the woman's solicitor, Peter Bowles, said: "We are pleased that is has finally been issued by the department after many years.

"We are currently studying the adequacy of the guidance and waiting to see how it complies with the forthcoming decision of the Court of Appeal."

Mr Bowles added: "My client has achieved what she set out to obtain in these proceedings."

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