Abortion guidance judicial review: why do some anti-choicers think women should be kept in the dark about their rights?

Yesterday I wrote of the shameful waste of public money on the part of anti-choice group SPUC who are fighting the DHSSPS in Belfast’s High Court, demanding the withdrawal of important guidance for health professionals on abortion law and practice. Despite the hearing concluding yesterday, the judgement was reserved and so I have no more information at this point. After trying my best to summarize the law which this document seeks to explain for practitioners, tonight I’m going to look at the journey of local campaigners that has led to this point.

Part 2: The fpa’s 8 year fight for clarity

Our story begins in May 2001 when the fpa applied for a judicial review of “medical practices relating to abortion and the provision of abortion services in NI”, a process which finally got it’s hearing in March 2002. The reason the fpa initiated this process was out of a desperate concern for women who were experiencing inconsistent care because doctors themselves were so confused as to what the law demanded of them. When GPs are phoning the fpa’s helpline for advice that must be a sure sign that something isn’t right. The aim of the judicial review was to hold the DHSSPS to account, make them face up to the fact that they have a responsibility to issue clear guidance rather than bury their heads in the sand and hope that Easyjet will continue to take care of Northern Irish womens’ abortion needs.

On first hearing, the courts did not rule in favour of compelling the dept to do this although, Mr Justice Kerr did recommend it would be “prudent” of them to do so. Two years later in March 2004, the fpa successfully appealed this judgement and finally the DHSSPS were required to both consult those working in the medical profession, agencies that support women, and women themselves, and issue useful practical guidance to help inform practice. I outlined in last night’s post what that guidance contains – useful stuff which, to be honest, probably doesn’t go far enough. The fpa pointed out in their consultation response that a lot of the questions people raised in the consultation stage were ignored. Basically, the document effectively restates the law but doesn’t do great at actually helping practitioners deal with the realities of women who need abortions under a range of complex, sensitive and painful circumstances.

But what are SPUC’s concerns? What is so frightening about this document that compels them to fight it in the courts? I’ve had a look at their arguments and I think it boils down to this:

This is the dogmatic assertion of all anti-choice groups and quite frankly is a complete legal fallacy. There is no evidence of any legal status being afforded to a foetus in case law history. In fact in the Irish courts, where you’d expect protection for the foetus given that the rights of the unborn are written into the Irish constitution, a landmark case where a woman wanted to have an embryo implanted following IVF with her now ex-husband, ruled in favour of the man who didn’t want the embryo to be implanted and the embryo was destroyed. I could say WAY more about this but I’ll save it for now…


Let’s be really clear about this – anti-choice groups would like women to believe that abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland. I think they reckon that if women believe that then they will be less likely to consider abortion as an option when they face a crisis pregnancy. As with the first point, it is simply not true. The law clearly makes provision for women to access abortion where there will be adverse effects on their physical or mental health. In 2007, there were 99 LEGAL abortions performed in hospitals in Northern Ireland. While it is possible those 99 were all emergency life-saving operations, this is most likely not the case. If SPUC want us to think that only an intervention to save a life justifies an abortion then perhaps they would prefer those 99 women had been left to suffer with life-limiting heart conditions, degenerative blindness, MS, severe post-natal depression, suicide…

  • They especially don’t like the idea of abortion on the grounds of adverse mental health.


Presumably because they think women lie. There are a lot of unhelpful myths about abortion and why women may need to terminate a pregnancy. When you hear the complete ignorance of some people who think most people seeking abortions are delinquent teenage girls who can’t wait to get rid of it so they can get back out clubbing with their mates…it doesn’t surprise me at all that they would assume women would fake being suicidal to get an abortion. What does surprise me is that they think the expert analysis of two psychiatrists (necessary for an abortion to be granted) wouldn’t be able to pick that up.

I hope the courts see through the idiocy of SPUC’s attempts to derail the process of getting accurate information to doctors and appropriate care to women who not only desperately need it, but are legally entitled to it.



1 Response to “Abortion guidance judicial review: why do some anti-choicers think women should be kept in the dark about their rights?”

  1. 1 A, B and C v. Ireland starts today « Human Rights in Ireland Trackback on December 9, 2009 at 1:04 pm

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