Abortion referendum aftermath: Is Northern Ireland next?

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Abortion referendum aftermath: Is Northern Ireland next?
Its laws breach human rights, and its people back change, but politicians remain resistant

Sat, Jun 9, 2018
Fionola Meredith

The decisive vote for repeal in the Republic’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment to its Constitution sent a seismic jolt through Northern Ireland, where abortion remains illegal in almost all cases. It has intensified public conversation about the issue, inspiring pro-choice activists to renew their demands for a change in the law.

Last week, in a protest outside Belfast’s High Court, women from the socialist feminist organisation Rosa NI swallowed abortion pills while being filmed by police. The verdict in the South has also caused uncertainty and dismay in anti-abortion campaigners, who fear that, in the words of the slogan, the North is next.

Continued: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/abortion-referendum-aftermath-is-northern-ireland-next-1.3522667

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Government under pressure over ‘incompatible’ Northern Ireland abortion law

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Government under pressure over ‘incompatible’ Northern Ireland abortion law
Pro-choice campaigners demand action after Supreme Court judges say ban on terminations needs ‘radical reconsideration’.

June 7 2018

The Government is facing mounting pressure to reform abortion laws in Northern Ireland after Supreme Court judges said they were incompatible with human rights legislation.

Pro-choice campaigners demanded action after a majority of Supreme Court judges said the ban on terminations in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality needed “radical reconsideration”.

Continued: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/republic-of-ireland/government-under-pressure-over-incompatible-northern-ireland-abortion-law-36986743.html

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Belfast woman to challenge NI abortion laws in High Court

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Belfast woman to challenge NI abortion laws in High Court
Decision follows ruling by British supreme court on legality of situation in North

June 7, 2018
Amanda Ferguson

A Belfast woman who travelled to Britain for an abortion is to take a case to the High Court in her home city after campaigners lost a UK supreme court appeal over the legality of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.

Supported by Amnesty International, Sarah Ewart, who travelled for an abortion after being told her baby would not survive, said she was seeking a formal declaration that the North’s laws on abortion were incompatible with human rights law.

Continued: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/belfast-woman-to-challenge-ni-abortion-laws-in-high-court-1.3522595

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NI abortion laws need radical reconsideration, court says as appeal dismissed

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NI abortion laws need radical reconsideration, court says as appeal dismissed
Deputy Supreme Court president Lord Mance said the present law ‘clearly needs radical reconsideration’

June 7 2018

Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws are incompatible with human rights legislation and need “radical reconsideration”, the UK’s highest court has urged.

A majority of a seven-strong panel of Supreme Court justices ruled the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) had no legal standing to bring its challenge against the abortion law.

But, by a majority, the judges also strongly expressed their opinion that the current laws are incompatible with article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the right for respect for private and family life.

Continued: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/republic-of-ireland/ni-abortion-laws-need-radical-reconsideration-court-says-as-appeal-dismissed-36986268.html

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The hypocrisy surrounding Northern Ireland’s abortion ban shames us all

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The hypocrisy surrounding Northern Ireland’s abortion ban shames us all

Barbara Davidson
Friday October 27th 2017

This week the 1967 Abortion Act marked its fiftieth anniversary. While women in England, Scotland and Wales reflect on fifty years of reproductive rights, women in Northern Ireland have no reason for celebration.

Instead, women from Northern Ireland were in the Supreme Court this week, as judges heard a case on whether our abortion laws amount to a breach of human rights law.

Continued at source: https://inews.co.uk/opinion/comment/hypocrisy-surrounding-northern-irelands-abortion-ban-shames-us/

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Supreme Court examines NI abortion law appeal

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Supreme Court examines NI abortion law appeal

25 October 2017

A barrister has claimed that Northern Ireland's abortion legislation has "saved 100,000 lives". He was speaking for the Christian Action and Research in Education (CARE), on the second day of an appeal relating to the laws.

Supreme Court judges are being asked to consider whether the existing rules breach a woman's human rights.

A lawyer for Amnesty International challenged the figure put forward by CARE's legal representative.

Continued at source: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-41743629

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N.Ireland: North’s abortion law forcing women to go through ‘torture’ – Supreme Court hears

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North’s abortion law forcing women to go through ‘torture’ – Supreme Court hears
London court told current law discriminates against women and girls on grounds of sex

Tue, Oct 24, 2017
Denis Staunton in London

Northern Ireland’s abortion law is forcing vulnerable women and girls to go through “physical and mental torture”, the supreme court in London has heard.

The court on Tuesday began hearing an application from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), which argues that criminalisation of abortion, even in the case of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Continued at source: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/north-s-abortion-law-forcing-women-to-go-through-torture-supreme-court-hears-1.3267006

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Legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s abortion law to begin Tuesday

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Legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s abortion law to begin Tuesday
October 23 2017

An appeal against Northern Ireland's strict abortion law is to be heard in London tomorrow.

The Supreme Court will hear a case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which claims the current law with regards to cases of rape, incest, or serious foetal anomaly is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Continued at source: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/legal-challenge-to-northern-irelands-abortion-law-to-begin-tuesday-36252352.html

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International law and the provision of abortion services

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International law and the provision of abortion services

Kirsten Sjøvoll considers whether the Supreme Court's approach to international law as an aid to interpretation of the ECHR is out of step with Strasbourg, and where this leaves international law as an interpretative aid generally

By Kirsten Sjovoll · On July 28, 2017

In R (A & B) v Secretary of State for Health [2017] UKSC 41 the Supreme Court considered whether the Secretary of State’s failure to exercise his power to require that abortion services be provided through the NHS in England – to women ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland – was unlawful. The question was whether he failed to discharge his duty under the National Health Service Act 2006, s 3 to “take such steps as he considers necessary to meet all reasonable requirements” for services. It also considered whether the continuing failure to provide such abortion services infringed the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR” of “the Convention”), art 14 in conjunction with 8. In particular, the Supreme Court considered to what extent these rights under the ECHR should be informed by other obligations and principles of international law.

Continued at source: Law of Nations Blog: https://lawofnationsblog.com/2017/07/28/international-law-provision-abortion-services/

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Sweden: Where conscientious objection to abortion is not recognised in law

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Sweden: Where conscientious objection to abortion is not recognised in law
March 17, 2017
by Safe Abortion

In Sweden, conscientious objection is not recognised in law. A Swedish midwife who refused to participate in abortions or prescribe contraceptives, which are part of the job description for midwives, was turned down for jobs in three clinics in the region of Joenkoeping in 2014.

Her case was tried by Sweden’s discrimination ombudsman and appealed to the district court. Both ruled against her claims of discrimination in 2015. The district court ordered her to pay the authorities’ legal costs. She then appealed to the Labour Court. Her anti-abortion lawyers argue on human rights grounds that her freedom of religion and freedom of conscience have been breached, and that she has been discriminated against.

Her legal team call themselves Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers. Her legal and financial backing, however, comes from a group called Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian US anti-abortion group, well-known in the USA, that declared net assets of $4.9m on its US tax return in 2015.

The president of the Swedish Association of Midwives. Mia Ahlberg, says it is important that ADF’s role in this case is becoming known in Sweden. In January 2017, when the case opened in the Labour Court, she told Radio Sweden: “I have been discussing this a lot and people think that ‘well, she is just alone, it is just one midwife fighting, it is like the small one against the big one’. But this is not the case. This is a global, very strong, well-funded organisation that is trying to get their message though in different countries in different ways. And it is very, very important that this gets out, so you know what is behind it, so you know who you are fighting against,” she said.

Indeed, this group’s anti-abortion tactics in the USA are being repeated in Sweden – to tie up the courts with suits that are not supported in national law, for the publicity and the nuisance value, and to tie up and wear down the pro-choice movement in opposing them. Thus, it is less well-known that in 2015, another Swedish midwife also sued her health authority after she was denied employment when she said she would not carry out abortions. She too was represented by the same lawyers as the midwife in the current case, and she too was supported by ADF.

This case is said to be an important piece of the ADF’s anti-abortion lobbying activity in Europe, as their aim is to influence European abortion law. They say they are prepared to go all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights. One can only hope that the Swedish courts will soon deny them the right of appeal, to stop this dragging on.

The arguments for her case

Using human rights language, the midwife’s lawyers have argued that the European Union and Europe’s main human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, call for “freedom of conscience for healthcare professionals” concerning abortions. And that Sweden’s neighbours, Norway and Denmark, have specific clauses allowing this in their healthcare systems. Abortions are only “a very limited part of the work” of a Swedish midwife, the lawyers claim. It seems her unwillingness to provide contraception is being left out of their arguments, however, at least in the media reports.

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is part of Swedish law, has also been cited by her lawyers, as requiring states to safeguard “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. However, this Convention also allows for restrictions on this right, in certain cases, including “for the protection of health” of other citizens.

Moreover, the only two reasons why conscientious objection exists in the laws of many countries as regards abortion is because a) abortion is considered “controversial”, a label the anti-abortion movement works hard to promote and maintain, and b) because abortion is in the criminal law and therefore has a different status. No other form of health care provision includes the right of conscientious objection.

The anti-abortion movement’s addition of the right to object to providing contraception, which in most countries is neither controversial nor covered by the criminal law, has failed to gain any legal traction, even in the USA – where they then changed their tactic to trying to remove contraception from the list of services covered by government-funded health insurance.

The arguments against her case

Sweden’s policy on abortion follows the principle that “the needs of the patient always come first”, Mia Ahlberg explained to the BBC. The key point is that the midwife has a choice – she can always choose another profession – but in many cases a woman having an abortion could not choose to become pregnant. She argues that the case is about women’s rights, women’s human rights and women’s access to good, safe healthcare.

What about the freedom of conscience argument? If the midwife were to win, she said, it could have a big impact on Swedish healthcare: “For example, a nurse who is a Jehovah’s Witness might refuse to perform a blood transfusion.” Swedish midwives’ training includes abortion procedures and after-care. “It’s part of our professional competence – so the employer has a right to say ‘you cannot work here’… Swedish midwives today do abortions quite independently in some units.” Although Sweden does not have enough midwives, she says, that is not a reason to make an exception for one midwife, stressing that women’s rights and the integrity of midwifery are at stake and must be defended.

In effect, what she is saying is that the anti-abortion argument is always the same argument, dressed in different clothing. It not only puts the fetus first but also puts the objecting midwife first. It is just another way of saying that the woman and her needs and rights do not come first and do not take precedence over every other competing claim.

SOURCES: BBC News, 26 January 2017 ; Radio Sweden, 24 January 2017 ; LOGO

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Source: International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion: http://www.safeabortionwomensright.org/sweden-where-conscientious-objection-to-abortion-is-not-recognised-in-law/

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