Belfast High Court refuses to say when abortion is legal


We are often told that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but what are we to do when nobody will say what the law means. The High Court in Belfast has said NO to a request that it spell out what is legal and what is not. The Family Planning Association had asked it to order the Department of Health to publish guidelines about when abortion is legal in the six counties.

The ruling restates the existing law, that abortion is legal if in the clinic judgement of a woman's doctor the physical or mental health of the woman is at serious or grave risk if she continues with her pregnancy.

Some doctors would interpret this fairly liberally, that compelling a woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy could put her mental health at serious risk. But, as there are no clear guidelines, those doctors could then be open to legal action from anti-abortion pressure groups.

This legal confusion has meant that the vast majority of northern Irish abortions happen in England. And this is why Northern women are three times more likely to have a late abortion. The delay is caused by the time spent having to find in the region of £700 for the clinic and travel costs.

If abortion were freely available on the health service why would any woman choose to have a late abortion? In Britain over 90% of abortions are carried out before the 12th week of pregnancy.

This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'.

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This edition is No77 published in September 2003