A woman who travelled outside Northern Ireland for an abortion after being told her unborn child could not survive after birth has won the right to challenge the region’s laws on terminations.
Sarah Ewart has been granted leave to judicially review the current prohibition on abortions in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities.
The substantive case, which is due to be heard in the coming months, will test whether the regime is incompatible with human rights law.
Five years ago, Ewart travelled from Northern Ireland for a termination in England after a 20-week scan revealed her baby had anencephaly, which meant its brain and skull had not developed and it would either die before being born or shortly afterwards.
Ewart has become a high-profile advocate for law reform and has been involved in previous legal hearings on the emotive issue.
“I hope this means the beginning of the end to the trauma I’ve been through – constantly going through the court system and having to re-tell and re-live my experience is exhausting,” she said.
“It will be worth it if this case pushes forward reform so that no more women are affected and hurt by the current law.”
Abortions in Northern Ireland are illegal in all but exceptional medical and mental health circumstances.
The government has resisted calls to step in to legislate for reform in the wake of a recent Supreme Court judgment that found the current legal framework incompatible with human rights laws.
In June, a majority of Supreme Court judges said the ban on terminations in cases of rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormality needed “radical reconsideration”.
But the Supreme Court dismissed the legal challenge by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission by a narrow majority, explaining that it had no jurisdiction to consider the case because there was no actual or potential victim of an unlawful act involved in it.
Ewart has put herself forward as such an individual impacted by the law for the renewed legal bid.
She was granted permission to take a case against Stormont’s departments of health and justice, though not the UK government.
Amnesty International is supporting her challenge.
Grainne Teggart from Amnesty said: “A huge amount rests on this case for women in Northern Ireland.
“If the court rules that the UK is violating its human rights obligations by allowing women to suffer under the abortion law in Northern Ireland, the UK government will have no choice but to respond.
“However, women should not be forced through the courts to have their rights realised.”