The struggle over abortion reform will continue in the courts and outside the Assembly

The UK national papers have shown more interest in the case of a mother who  obtained abortion pills for her 15 year old daughter than the latest twists and turn of the RHI affair. No doubt this is because even abortion issues are more readily  understandable than RHI and they have points of comparison  to make with the permissive English regime which in their views show up Northern Ireland  once again as a reactionary backwater.  Full reports appeared in the Independent and the Guardian, ( although  I  regret the lack of follow-ups on the Hart report into child abuse which if it had been about abuse in England with similar hints of prominent names and MI5 involvement, would have been  widely covered even in a week like this one).

I look forward to an informed commentary on the decision but it seems to amount to further pressure on the Assembly – if it still exists – to change the law or at least for prosecutions to be halted.

However the outlook is poor. Michelle O’Neill  the new Sinn Fein Assembly leader and outgoing Health Minister says she would have supported reform  but now can’t because of the Assembly collapse ( you could help solve that one, Michelle). But the DUP’s Jim Wells has boasted that  an anti-abortion peitition  with “300,000 signatures” is ” the largest ever.”

So with the DUP and the Attorney General as opponents,  legal change  may remain unlikely, in spite of  polling showing  3/4 in favour.

From the Guardian report

The girl found out she was pregnant in the summer of 2013, after a relationship with a boy a year older than her and who she said was physically abusive. In written evidence submitted to the court, her lawyers said he threatened to kick the baby out of her, and to stab it if it was born.

Her mother was concerned about her emotional wellbeing and took her to the GP, where they spoke about taking the pills. A medical examination showed no ill-effects, and a referral was made for counselling.

Two months later a doctor at the medical centre (it is not clear from the court papers if it was the same doctor or another) told police that the girl had taken the pills. Neither the girl nor her mother were consulted about her private medical records being handed to the police, according to the court papers

The Times (£) gave the immediate background last November

 A mother is one of three women who have appeared before courts in Northern Ireland this year on charges relating to the pills.

A 21-year-old woman was given a three-month suspended sentence in April for taking the pills. The woman, who was reported to the police by her housemates, had been trying to save up to pay for flights and a termination in England.

The third case is understood to have involved a couple. In the cases of both the couple and the Belfast mother it is understood that the women were arrested shortly after they sought medical help.

A crowd funding appeal for legal fees of £30,000 was launched last November

From the Belfast Telegraph report  

Philip Henry, for the PPS, countered that the legal challenge should be dismissed due to delay – the decision to prosecute was taken more than a year ago.

Contesting the strength of the grounds of challenge, he added: “There’s simply no prospect of establishing inhuman treatment.”

However, Lord Justice Weatherup, sitting with Mrs Justice Keegan, ruled that an arguable case had been established.

Granting leave to apply for judicial review, he listed a full hearing in May.

The judges also gave intervener status to four organisations: the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Family Planning Association, the Royal College of Midwives, and the British Humanist Association.

Counsel for those bodies can now make representations to assist in the case.

Outside court their solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh, said: “This is a proper case for leave to be granted as there are significant issues dealing with the rights of the child, privacy and medical grounds, along with the moral issue of abortion in Northern Ireland.”

Later, a lawyer representing the mother and daughter said the case involved important issues about the rights of women and children in Northern Ireland.

Stressing the public interest in mounting the challenge, Jemma Conlon of Stephen Chambers Solicitors said: “We are asking the court to take the view that it was highly inappropriate to prosecute our client in these circumstances and potentially criminalise her for behaviour that would be lawful, for example, in England.

“We are hopeful that the court might ultimately determine that it was contrary to Article 3 and Article 8 human rights of both mother and daughter for this prosecution to continue.”

Ms Conlon added: “There are also important ancillary issues that the court may determine which concern the propriety of accessing their medical records without their consent.”