By Sarah Mac Donald - 01 December, 2015
The challenge to the current abortion law was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) which is seeking to liberalise access to abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.
Currently, Northern Ireland has more restrictive abortion laws than the rest of UK, and a termination is only permitted where the life or mental health of the mother is in danger.
On Monday, Mr Justice Mark Horner said in his ruling, “In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their Convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the Article Eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal foetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions.”
In a statement on Monday evening, the North’s bishops said it was “profoundly disquieting” that the decision of the High Court has “effectively weighed up one life against another and said to our society that the life of some children is more worthy of our protection, love and care than others”.
They underlined that the Catholic Church teaches that the duty to care for and protect human life extends equally to a mother and her unborn child in all circumstances.
“Having met with many parents whose unborn child with a life limiting condition has lived for hours, days, weeks and even years bringing immense happiness, we are profoundly shocked and disturbed at the Judge’s words that such children are ‘doomed’”, they said.
They added that Mr Justice Mark Horner compounded this by saying that “there is no human life to protect”.
“By any human and moral standard these children are persons and our duty to respect and protect their right to life does not change because of any Court judgement.”
The bishops warned that vulnerable and innocent children who suffer from a life limiting condition, and children who have been conceived as a result of the trauma of a sexual crime for which they bear no responsibility, will no longer be afforded the protection of the law to vindicate their inherent right to life.
“To deliberately and intentionally take the life of an innocent person continues to be gravely morally wrong in all circumstances,” the bishop stated.
The judgment itself draws attention to the contradiction and illogicality of laws that call for “no discrimination against those children who are born suffering from disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida” but then permit “selective abortion so as to prevent those children with such disabilities being born in the first place”.
The bishops said they are committed to a culture of equal compassion and care for a mother and her unborn child.
“We share with others the belief that the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child can never be a humane, compassionate or appropriate response to the complex and sensitive circumstances of a difficult or crisis pregnancy,” they said.
Separately, parents whose children were diagnosed with life-limiting conditions such as anencephaly and Trisomy 13 have said they are disappointed with the High Court ruling in Belfast because it further discriminates against unborn children with a disability.
“We are saddened to see that the Belfast Court singled out unborn babies with a disability to make an exception in the law on abortion,” spokesperson Tracy Harkin said.
“Research has shown that abortion is not the progressive answer under these circumstances and that perinatal hospice care is a better answer for the parents and children involved.”
Ms Harkin was sharply critical of Justice Horner’s comments in regard to babies with life-limiting conditions which she said ‘were grossly offensive, cruel and discriminatory”.
“The High Court Justice ruled that if a baby had what he called a ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ there was ‘no human life to protect’ and the baby was ‘doomed’. This language is not only grossly misinformed it is deeply offensive and cruel to parents who have lost babies to life-limiting conditions such as anencephaly or Trisomy 13.”
“Our children were alive and kicking in the womb and deserved respect and protection.”
Ms Harkin added that her own daughter, Kathleen Rose, had reached her 9th birthday living with Trisomy 13, a condition described by the media and campaigners as a ‘fatal foetal abnormality’.
She highlighted that in other countries, more than 90% of children like Kathleen Rose are aborted, and sadly the mind-set that babies with disabilities are better off aborted has also led to some horrendous outcomes, such as the statistic from Britain that more than 90% of babies with conditions such as Down’s Syndrome have their life ended before birth.
“Would Justice Horner look my daughter in the eye and say that she was ‘doomed’ and that she ‘had no human life to protect’”, she challenged.
“It’s time for antiquated and discriminatory attitudes towards unborn babies with disabilities to end.”
The Life Institute has welcomed the decision of the Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin to appeal the High Court abortion ruling.
Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute said the ruling was deeply flawed and furthered ‘lethal discrimination’ against children with severe disabilities.
“It is extraordinary to see a High Court judge use such cruel and thoughtless languages which will have been enormously hurtful to the majority of parents who carry their sick babies to term and who cherish every moment with their babies, most of whom do live beyond birth,” she said.
Ms Uí Bhriain said that research demonstrated that 72% of children with anencephaly live beyond birth, with 25% living for up to 5 days.
For other ‘fatal’ conditions to which Mr Justice Horner was referring, such as Trisomy 13 and 18, the average life of children affected is between 10 and 14 days, whilst others live much longer.
“This ruling is deeply flawed and discriminatory and we hope it will be appealed as soon as possible,” she said.