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UK court case puts Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws to the test

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UK court case puts Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws to the test

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The UK’s Supreme Court began hearing arguments on Tuesday for and against changing the abortion law in Northern Ireland.

Unlike in the rest of the UK, the more socially conservative province only permits abortion when the mother’s life is in danger. In cases such as pregnancy from rape or incest or foetal abnormalities, women face prosecution if they undergo abortion in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission brought the case against Belfast’s devolved government in 2014 and has since found support from other human righhts groups. Amnesty International spokeswoman Grainne Teggart said from outside the court:

“We cannot continue with a situation that denies women choice, autonomy and treats women as second class citizens. Politicians have failed women. They have failed to protect their rights, they have failed to value their lives enough to change Northern Ireland’s discriminatory law.”

Foetal abnormalities prompted Sarah Ewart, a Northern Irish resident, to travel to England to get an abortion.

“I have said previously that I have not finished with my family. I don’t know if this will happen again but I have been told there is a higher chance of it happening a second time. We still have women contacting us privately who are going through this. We need the help in our own hospitals with our own medical teams and that is why we are here, hopefully to get the help.”

The Supreme Court will hear from pro-choice and pro-life groups during the hearing which is scheduled to last three days.