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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Legal challenge to NI abortion law
Pro-life campaigners have protested over the legal move
The Family Planning Association has been given leave to provide more evidence in a judicial review of Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

The association asked for the judicial review to be heard in the High Court because it feels the existing law is confusing.

It wants the court to order the Department of Health to publish clear guidelines on how pregnancy terminations are provided under existing law.

It also wants women in Northern Ireland to have the same access to abortion facilities as women in other parts of the UK.

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.

Further date

In court on Wednesday, Lord Justice Kerr gave the association leave to submit more evidence in the case on 17 October.

He gave a group of Catholic Bishops, opposing the action, until next week to submit their evidence in the case, after which the judicial review will be heard in court.

They were given leave to intervene in the case by the court last month.

The judge will then also rule on whether other anti-abortion groups could submit evidence in the case.

The association has stressed the court case is not about extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

This act legalised the medical practice in England and Wales, but it was never introduced in Northern Ireland.

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

It believes this results in "confusing and inconsistent medical practice".

Possible Irish referendum

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

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

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

On Tuesday, the Irish Government announced it was proposing another referendum and new legislation on abortion.

Abortion is illegal in the Irish Republic except in special circumstances where the life of the mother is threatened.

See also:

13 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Q&A: Abortion in NI
30 Oct 99 | Northern Ireland
PUP calls for extension of abortion act
27 May 01 | Northern Ireland
Bishop calls for abortion referendum
02 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
New abortion referendum proposed
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