Northern Ireland

SPUC launches legal challenge to abortion guidelines

Medical equipment
Image caption Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland unless a woman's life is at risk

Pro-life campaigners have launched a new High Court challenge over controversial government guidelines on abortion in Northern Ireland.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) won permission on Thursday to seek a judicial review.

SPUC claims the Department of Health breached an order for complete withdrawal of its guidance.

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

The High Court ruled last year that the advice on terminating pregnancies must be completely withdrawn because it was misleading.

A judge then rejected an attempt by the department to have just two sections on counselling and conscientious objection reconsidered rather than the full guidance.

'No proper consultation'

SPUC have returned to court claiming Lord Justice Girvan's direction has been breached by publishing guidelines with these parts omitted.

The group also alleges there has been no proper consultation with it and other relevant parties.

SPUC originally wanted a declaration that what has been produced did not properly set out the law.

It claimed the guidance also failed to deal with the rights of the unborn child and provided inadequate advice for conscientious objectors within the medical profession.

The Department of Health's legal representatives rejected allegations it had failed to make clear that abortion was illegal in Northern Ireland apart from in the most exceptional circumstances.

They also said the document was for health workers rather than the general public.

Although the High Court stopped short of quashing the guidelines, it ruled last November that the counselling and conscientious objection sections were unclear.

A date for the full hearing of the new challenge has yet to be set.