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High court rules Northern Ireland abortion law in breach of UK's human rights obligations

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High court rules Northern Ireland abortion law in breach of UK's human rights obligations
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Abortion laws in Northern Ireland are in breach of the UK's human rights obligations, the High Court in Belfast has ruled.

The judgement made on Thursday marked an important development in the case of a woman who was forced to travel to England to undergo a termination.

Sarah Ewart, 29, brought the case to court earlier this year after she says she was denied an abortion in 2013, despite doctors telling her that her baby would not survive outside of the womb.

The current law in Northern Ireland stipulates that women can legally have a termination if the mother's life is at risk, or if her pregnancy will cause her incurable physical damage.

But in cases of pregnancy from rape and incest, or those that have been diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormality (FFA), a termination is not deemed legal.

Ewart's case was one of FFA - her baby had anencephaly and had not developed a skull, meaning doctors did not believe her child would survive birth.

After being denied a termination in Northern Ireland, Ewart travelled to England - where there are different laws on abortion - to receive the treatment.

She has since coordinated a high-profile campaign detailing the psychological and financial pressures she was subjected to during such an ordeal.

Her legal case was launched in January, just months after five of seven UK Supreme Court justices also found that Northern Ireland's abortion laws breached the wider UK's human rights commitments.

Passing her judgement on Thursday, Justice Siobhan Keegan said Ewart's testimony was "compelling".

She added: "[Ewart] has had to modify her behaviour in that she could not have medical treatment in Northern Ireland due to the risk of criminal prosecution.

"She may be actively affected in the future. In my view her personal testimony is not disputed.”

Keegan is set to hear more on other cases before making a decision of further action.

In a statement, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said it "welcomed" the court's decision, and praised Ewart for taking her case forward.

"Sarah should not have had to take this case in the first place, in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled clearly that NI laws ran contrary to human rights standards, Parliament should have changed the law then without delay.

"We are delighted at this step forward today and the potential wider impact it will have in the future for women and girls in Northern Ireland."

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