Catholic bishops "shocked and disturbed" at Belfast High Court ruling on abortion

The court found abortion laws there in breach of human rights legislation

Abortion, landmark legal ruling, outright ban, Northern Ireland, human rights

A general view of the Belfast High Court | Image: Paul Faith / PA Archive/PA Images

Northern Ireland's Catholic bishops have expressed shock at a Belfast High Court ruling on abortion yesterday.

A judge ruled that the right to an abortion should be extended if a woman is sexually assaulted or if the foetus has a fatal illness.

The case was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Judge Mr Justice Mark Horner said yesterday that denying an abortion to a mother in cases of fatal foetal abnormality was a "gross interference with her personal autonomy".

He also ruled that victims of sexual crime were being disproportionately burdened by current legislation, adding: "She has to face all the dangers and problems, emotional or otherwise, of carrying a foetus for which she bears no moral responsibility and is merely a receptacle to carry the child of a rapist and/or a person who has committed incest, or both".

"In doing so, the law is enforcing prohibition of abortion against an innocent victim of a crime in a way which completely ignores the personal circumstances of the victim".

In a statement, the Catholic Bishops have expressed their profound shock - and claim it means the life of some children "is more worthy of our protection, love and care than others".

"By any human and moral standard these children are persons and our duty to respect and protect their right to life does not change because of any Court judgement", they say in a statement.

"It is profoundly disquieting that the decision of the High Court in Belfast has effectively weighed up one life against another and said to our society that the life of some children is more worthy of our protection, love and care than others".

"Vulnerable and innocent children who suffer from a life limiting condition, and children who have been conceived as a result of the trauma of a sexual crime for which they bear no responsibility, will no longer be afforded the protection of the law to vindicate their inherent right to life. To deliberately and intentionally take the life of an innocent person continues to be gravely morally wrong in all circumstances", they add.

Although Northern Ireland's Department of Justice had recommended abortion laws were relaxed in circumstances of FFA, the Human Rights Commission believed this change was not enough.

In a statement, the Commission said it welcomed the ruling - and claimed it would help to protect women and girls throughout Northern Ireland.