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Audrey Simpson, Family Planning Association
"The medical profession are unsure who can get an abortion"
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The BBC's Tom Coulter
"Abortion in the Province is strictly limited"
 real 28k

BBC NI's Julian O'Neill reports:
"The judge said the Family Planning Association had raised an arguable case"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Abortion law to be reviewed

Pro-life campaigners protesting over the legal move
A High Court judge has granted leave for a judicial review in the challenge to Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

The case was brought by the Family Planning Association (FPA) which wants women in Northern Ireland to have the same access to abortion facilities as women in other parts of the UK.

Lord Justice Kerr said that the application had raised a valid argument that the minister should have issued guidelines.

But he deferred a decision on whether or not to allow the Catholic Church and the other parties to become involved in the case.

He gave them three weeks to file written submissions and said he would then rule on the question of them participating.

A full judicial review is likely to take place in the autumn.

The 1967 Abortion Act legalised the medical practice in England and Wales, but it was never introduced in Northern Ireland.

Each year about 2,000 women cross the Irish Sea to have abortions in private clinics in Britain, says the FPA.

'Equal rights'

Abortions in Northern Ireland are still strictly limited, and can only go ahead if it can be proved that the pregnancy would damage the physical or mental health of the woman.

Outside the court John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said he was disappointed by the judge's ruling.

He claimed the FPA was trying to "liberate the practice of abortion in Northern Ireland".

"They are using their age-old tactic of saying that the law is unclear. This is code language used by the pro-abortion lobby when they want to liberate abortion practice," he said.

Audrey Simpson:
Audrey Simpson: Legal challenge a major step

FPA director Audrey Simpson has previously said that the challenge would give women "equal rights to reproductive health care services".

She has said the challenge was "a major step", and was the first time that such an action had been taken.

The FPA has said there is a lack of clarity around the circumstances in which an abortion can take place in Northern Ireland.

The organisation believes this results in "confusing and inconsistent medical practice".

It says that the majority of women who decide to terminate a pregnancy are forced to travel to Britain.

Abortion ship

About 40,000 women have travelled from Northern Ireland in the last 20 years for an abortion in Britain, paying around 1,000 to a private clinic, according to the FPA.

On Monday, a controversial ship carrying an on-board clinic left the Netherlands bound for the Republic of Ireland, where it plans to offer abortions to Irish women.

The Dutch-registered ship has been paid for by a private Dutch voluntary organisation, Women on Waves, which says it wants to offer abortions to women who cannot travel to the UK.

The ship is due in Dublin on Thursday.

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See also:

13 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Q&A: Abortion in NI
20 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
No change to abortion law
30 Oct 99 | Northern Ireland
PUP calls for extension of abortion act
27 May 01 | Northern Ireland
Bishop calls for abortion referendum
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