N. Ireland Politics

Abortion: Appeal court judges question whether guidelines need to be examined

Belfast High Court
Image caption The appeal began on Monday against a High Court ruling that abortion law in Northern Ireland is "incompatible" with human rights law

Judges at the Appeal Court in Belfast have questioned whether recently published abortion guidelines from the Department of Health need to be examined to establish whether they clarify the law sufficiently.

It is the second day of an appeal against a High Court decision which found that Northern Ireland's abortion law is "incompatible" with human rights legislation.

The Lord Chief Justice asked if a lack of clarity surrounding the law caused a chill factor among doctors.

The appeal began on Monday and is being taken by the Department of Justice and Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin.

In December, a judge ruled the law did not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or sexual crime.

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

However, the justice department believes the ruling by the High Court could lead to a widening of the abortion law.

The current abortion legislation differs from the rest of the UK as the Abortion Act 1967 was never extended to Northern Ireland.

Image caption Ms O'Neill told MLAs that the terms of reference for the group had been drafted but "have not been formally signed off"

Currently, a termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk, or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Health Minister Michelle O'Neill confirmed that the working group proposed to deal with the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland has not been officially established.

It was due to be set up in February.

Ms O'Neill told MLAs that the terms of reference for the group had been drafted but "have not been formally signed off".

She said this meant consequently that the group has not yet met.

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