By Sarah Mac Donald - 17 December, 2015
Mr Justice Horner reached his final conclusion in the judicial review of abortion legislation in Northern Ireland on Wednesday.
In his conclusion, the judge told the packed courtroom that to interpret sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the law which specifically protects the child in the womb, to allow for abortion in cases of rape, incest and when the unborn child has been diagnosed with a life-limiting disability, would be “a step too far”.
Instead, the judge made a “declaration of incompatibility”, meaning that the matter of introducing new legislation is now for the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide.
In a statement, David Smyth, public policy advisor to the Evangelical Alliance said the umbrella body rejected the false dichotomy that pits the rights of the mother versus her unborn child.
“The rights, life and dignity of both the mother and unborn child at the heart of our approach to this issue. Even in the darkest of circumstances we see hope, redemption and dignity in the lives of everyone,” he said.
Welcoming the fact that Wednesday’s declaration of incompatibility makes no immediate change to current abortion law in Northern Ireland, he said the Alliance was “concerned about this judgement because the current law in Northern Ireland is clear and has a legitimate and proportionate aim – to protect women and unborn children”.
He continued, “We hope the Northern Ireland Assembly will actively pursue policies to provide women with world-leading personal pathways of pregnancy crisis care including perinatal hospice care.”
The legal judgement concluded that in cases of ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ there is no life to consider.
David Smyth hit out at that findings describing it as “factually, biologically and ethically wrong”.
The Judge stated that the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ or the ‘slippery slope argument’ cannot be easily dismissed. “Like the Judge, we are concerned that this case could lead to further legal challenge for more grounds for abortion to be made available.”
The Evangelical Alliance is the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. It works across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members.
Separately, the pro-life group Precious Life said in a statement that Mr Justice Horner’s ruling does not change the law on abortion in Northern Ireland.
“There is no obligation on the Northern Ireland Assembly to act on this ruling or to legalise abortion in the above cases.”
Speaking to the media outside the High Court in Belfast, Bernadette Smyth, the director of Precious Life, said of the ruling, “I would like to make clear that the law has not changed in Northern Ireland. Unborn children are still protected in Northern Ireland.”
“We are relieved that Judge Horner acknowledged that to ‘interpret’ our pro-life laws to allow for the killing of little unborn children diagnosed with life-limiting conditions and unborn children conceived in rape or incest would be a ‘step too far’.”
“We also welcome that he accepted that a so-called ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ is not a medical term or diagnosis. Rather, it is medically meaningless and grossly offensive and hurtful to mothers and their unborn babies,” Bernadette Smyth said.
She added that what women need in the heart-breaking case of a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting disability is perinatal hospice care.
“This provides real care and support to mothers and fathers from the moment of diagnosis, through the pregnancy, the birth of their baby, and during the precious minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years they may have with their special baby.”
“Women who have conceived in rape need counselling and loving care and support. Killing her unborn child is not the answer.”
Meanwhile, Precious Life have launched its FIGHT BACK public awareness campaign which it said is intended to “expose the horror of what a change in the law would mean for vulnerable defenceless unborn children in Northern Ireland”.
The group said it will be launching a massive lobby campaign at Stormont to ensure that politicians “continue to respect the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland who have made clear that abortion will never be in our name”.
“Precious Life have been fighting this battle for eighteen years and we will continue our efforts to ensure that the rights of unborn children continue to be upheld in law, policy and practice in Northern Ireland,” Bernadette Smyth said.