Campaigners fight challenge to Northern Ireland's abortion laws

 Pro-lifers from all denominations are protesting after a High Court judge granted leave for a judicial review of Northern Ireland's abortion laws. The case was brought by the Family Planning Association (FPA) which wants women in Northern Ireland to have the same access to abortion facilities as women in other parts of the UK. Lord Justice Kerr deferred a decision on whether or not to allow the Catholic Church and other parties to become involved in the case. He gave them three weeks to file written submissions and said he would then rule on the question of them taking part. Mr John Smeaton, UK director of SPUC, who was present at yesterday's hearing in Belfast, explained why the organisation wanted to be involved. He said: "By involving ourselves, we are representing the large majority of Northern Ireland s people, both unionist and nationalist, who oppose the liberalisation of abortion laws, and with whom we have been working closely both here and in the Westminster parliament for over three decades." Mrs Betty Gibson, SPUC Northern Ireland organiser, said: "Let there be no doubt about the fact that the aim of the FPA's action is to liberalise abortion law here. The FPA is part of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which is committed to introducing abortion on demand throughout the world by all possible means. "By claiming that Northern Ireland s abortion law is in need of clarification, the FPA is employing the same tactic used by pro-abortionists in Britain and elsewhere. However, we absolutely reject their claim. Abortion law is perfectly clear in Northern Ireland, and the vast majority of doctors know exactly what the situation is. The tactic is a cynical ploy on the part of the FPA which must be seen for what it is. "We are deeply concerned by this development and will do all we can to represent the will of Northern Ireland s people by arguing against the FPA's case." The 1967 Abortion Act legalised the medical practice in England and Wales, but it was never introduced in Northern Ireland. Abortions in Northern Ireland are still strictly limited, and can only go ahead if it can be proved that the pregnancy would damage the physical or mental health of the woman. Each year about 2,000 women cross the Irish Sea to have abortions in private clinics in Britain, says the FPA. *On Monday, a controversial ship carrying an on-board clinic left the Netherlands bound for the Republic of Ireland, where it plans to offer abortions to Irish women. The Dutch-registered ship has been paid for by a private Dutch voluntary organisation, Women on Waves, which says it wants to offer abortions to women who cannot travel to the UK. The ship is due in Dublin tomorrow.

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