Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 16:41 UK

Claims heard over abortion guide

Guidelines on abortion  were published in NI in March
Guidelines on abortion were published in NI in March

Government guidelines on abortion in NI are misleading and legally inaccurate, the High Court has heard.

The claims were made as the pro-life group SPUC launched a challenge against the government's abortion guidelines.

Guidance was published in March, five years after the Court of Appeal ruled the government should inquire into the provision of termination services.

A barrister for the Department of Health, claimed SPUC had failed to pass the threshold on any of its points.

Abortion is illegal in NI, except where the mother's life or mental well-being are considered at risk.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) is seeking a declaration that what guidance has been produced, does not properly set out the law.

Lawyers for SPUC also said it was a "stunning omission" to leave out figures on suicide rates among women who terminate a pregnancy.

James Dingemans QC, for the society, opened its application for leave to seek a judicial review by setting out key areas of complaint.

He said: "The guidance contains legal inaccuracies, secondly it critically fails to provide proper legal guidance on the issue of consent, and thirdly, it fails to deal with the rights of the unborn child."

The court heard claims the risk of suicide was higher among women who abort their pregnancies.

Midwives

The barrister also claimed it was irrational for the advice not to go into the rights of the unborn child.

He asked what midwives were to do when a still-breathing baby is aborted, with their duties to preserve life.

As part of his submissions, Mr Dingemans also argued the guidance was inadequate for conscientious objectors to termination, who work within the medical profession.

He claimed the advice generally "failed to make it absolutely clear that abortion is illegal in Nothern Ireland except in very clearly defined circumstances".

Nicolas Hanna QC, for the Department of Health, countered by saying the society had failed to pass the threshold on any of its points.

He pointed out that the guidance had been issued for the provision of health services to women seeking terminations in the very limited circumstances where it was legal.

Mr Hanna said the allegation that "the department has failed to acknowledge the presumptive illegality of abortion in Northern Ireland" was "totally misconceived".

"This guidance is addressed to Trusts and members of the health care profession," he said.

"It's not addressed to the general public or women seeking abortion.

"It's addressed to professions, not a lay audience."

The barrister added that in the document's opening paragraphs it makes clear that terminating a pregnancy in Northern Ireland is limited to preserving the woman's life.

"To suggest this is out the other way round is completely unfounded," he said.

After hearing both sides in the case, Mr Justice Weatherup reserved judgment in the application.



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