Northern Ireland news

Anti-abortion group to mount legal challenge against planned reforms

Abortion is due to be decriminalised in the north in October

AN anti-abortion group is to mount a legal challenge against plans to decriminalise terminations in Northern Ireland.

Abortions are due to be decriminalised, if by October 21 a power-sharing assembly does not return, after MPs and peers voted to back reform.

For the first time, abortion will be regulated and the threat of prosecution will be lifted.

Terminations are expected to be allowed up to 24 weeks, in line with Britain.

New abortion regulations are due to be in place by March 2020.

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However, anti-abortion group Precious Life said it is planning to challenge plans to alter the north's law.

The group claimed Westminster is attempting to force the change in the absence of a power-sharing assembly.

Bernie Smyth of anti-abortion group Precious Life. Picture by Ann McManus

The spokeswoman for Precious Life, Bernadette Smyth, said it will fight against any change in the north's abortion laws.

Ms Smyth said the group could challenge the law through seeking leave for a judicial review, although she said campaigners are still taking legal advice.

"Our legal team at Carlin Solicitors Belfast has already written to the new Secretary of State, Julian Smith, regarding public concern that legislation has been rushed through Westminster in the absence of proper consultation," she said.

The law change was voted on at Westminster after the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reiterated its belief that the British government violates the rights of women in Northern Ireland by restricting their access to abortion.

However, Ms Smyth questioned the CEDAW report, published earlier this year.

"The suggested recommendations in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report are very wide ranging and at odds with the democratically expressed wishes of people here and decision making by our local politicians and judiciary," she said.

She said the CEDAW recommendations are "unlawful and unnecessary".

She added: "We are urging the pro-life majority of NI to bombard their MLAs calling for them to ensure the government is reconvened by October 21st to stop the slaughter of our unborn children."

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International (right) with campaigner Sarah Ewart. File picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association

Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland campaigns manager for Amnesty International UK said, the change in the law "cannot come quickly enough".

"The UK Parliament has passed this law, which is in line with the will of the people of Northern Ireland who overwhelmingly favour change," she said.

"If our devolved institutions were restored before October 21 - and therefore prevented the law taking effect - then it must be with agreement and commitment from our political parties to deliver abortion law reform on exactly the same terms as this law ensures.

"A failure to do so would be a cruel betrayal of women who have long been harmed by our abortion regime. These gains have been long fought for, we will not accept our rights being sacrificed for political expediency."

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