07/07/2003

Courts turn down request for clarity on abortion

A request by the Family Planning Association (FPA) for clarification on abortion law in Northern Ireland has been turned down by the courts.

The FPA has stated that their action is not designed to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland, but to press the Department of Health into issuing guidelines to clarify the instances when abortion procedures are permitted under existing law.

Mr Justice Brian Kerr ruled against the request on Monday morning, stating that he believed the law as it stood was clear, but advised the Department of Health to consider publishing a guidance framework, even though there is no legal requirement to do so.

The 1967 Abortion Act legalised the procedure in England and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland. The FPA have estimated that in the last 20 years around 40,000 women from Northern Ireland have travelled to the UK for an abortion, paying around £1,000 for the procedure at a private clinic.

There is no official collection of statistics on abortions performed within Northern Ireland, but the procedure can be offered if doctors accept that the life of either foetus or mother is endangered by continuing the pregnancy; if abnormality is detected in the foetus; or if the woman has severe learning difficulties.

(CL)

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