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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
Abortion clarity request denied
Thousands of NI women go to Britain for abortions every year

A request for clarity over the law on abortion in Northern Ireland has been turned down in the courts.

The Family Planning Association wanted the courts to force the Department of Health to publish guidelines for doctors on when they can legally carry out terminations.

However, in Belfast on Monday, Mr Justice Brian Kerr said he believed the law as it stood was clear, but he invited the Department of Health to consider publishing guidelines, even though they were not legally required to do so.

Mr Justice Kerr said: "It is in my view beyond dispute that the issuing of guidelines will not resolve these difficulties."

He added: "I'm not satisfied that it has been shown that there's any insignificant uncertainty among the medical community as to the principles that govern abortion."

The association says the current law is confusing and are calling for women in Northern Ireland to have the same access to abortion facilities as women in other parts of the UK.

Abortions in the province 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.

The FPA said the majority of women who decide to terminate a pregnancy are forced to travel to Britain.

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

FPA's Audrey Simpson
We will be writing to the department to support this action and will be happy to offer any assistance necessary
Audrey Simpson
Family Planning Association
This act legalised the medical practice in England and Wales, but it was never introduced in Northern Ireland.

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

In a previous court hearing in March 2002, lawyers for the Department of Health said that just four out of 8,000 Northern Ireland women who had abortions in Britain over a five-year period could legally have had the operation at home.

Commenting on the outcome of the Judicial Review, Director of the Family Planning Associaton Audrey Simpson said: "Mr Justice Kerr was very clear that abortion is legal in Northern Ireland in certain circumstances.

"Whilst he hasn't instructed the Department of Health, Social Security and Public Safety to issue guidelines, in his summing up he suggested the department would be prudent to do so.

"We will be writing to the department to support this action and will be happy to offer any assistance necessary.

"We will consult our legal team to establish how best to proceed."

Liam Gibson of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child welcomed the judgement.

"Guidelines were not required and what the FPA were really looking for was a change in the law in Northern Ireland against the will of the people and politicians," he said.

BBC NI's Tara Mills
"Although disappointed by the outcome, the Family Planning Association say the judge's remarks offered them some hope"

Judgement reserved in abortion case
22 Mar 02  |  Northern Ireland
Court action over abortion guidelines
21 Mar 02  |  Northern Ireland
Legal challenge to NI abortion law
03 Oct 01  |  Northern Ireland
No change to abortion law
20 Jun 00  |  Northern Ireland

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