NI: Larkin claims abortion FFA exemption could breach UN disability convention

John Larkin QC
John Larkin QC

The Attorney General for Northern Ireland has claimed changing the law to allow abortions in the event of fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) could contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In a letter sent to Jim Allister MLA of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, John Larkin QC said “providing for a criminal law exception for ‘fatal foetal abnormality’, as proposed by this amendment, provides unborn children diagnosed with such a disability with much less protection under the law of Northern Ireland”.

He said this position was backed up by cases in Spain and Austria where the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had recommended the abolition of distinctions related to abortion in foetuses with disabilities.

However, his arguments have been roundly rejected by Amnesty International.

Patrick Corrigan
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director at Amnesty International

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director for the human rights group, said: “It is disconcerting to learn that the Attorney General questions whether or not providing for access to abortion in cases of fatal foetal impairment is compatible with international human rights law, when it is very clear that it is exactly what is required by international human rights law.

“The Attorney General’s comments, apparently conflating disability with fatal foetal impairment, are misleading and do a great disservice to those in Northern Ireland who want an informed discussion on this important human rights issue. Moreover, it is most unfair on women and families who have been through or are currently facing these experiences.

“To be clear, fatal and severe foetal impairment means the foetus will not survive birth or for very long after birth.

“Neither the World Health Organisation nor any human rights body has characterised severe foetal impairment as a disability of the foetus.

“Legislating for access to abortion in cases of fatal and severe foetal impairments is in no way incompatible with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To suggest otherwise simply serves to confuse public understanding of the issue and provides cover for those politicians who do not wish to bring Northern Ireland’s law into compliance with international human rights standards.”

He added: “Amnesty International has followed the lead of the UN’s human rights bodies in calling for access to safe and legal abortion services in cases of severe and fatal foetal impairment where women or girls wish to terminate the pregnancy on these grounds.

“There is huge public support in Northern Ireland for access to abortion on these grounds. This is substantially due to the harrowing testimonies of the women and their families who have bravely spoken out about the trauma of having to travel and being treated as criminals.”

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