Pro-lifers have won a significant victory in Northern Ireland with the withdrawal of controversial abortion guidelines.
SPUC, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, was set to have a judicial review on the issue in September but now the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has removed its interim guidance completely.
Liam Gibson, from SPUC in Northern Ireland, said the group is “very pleased” with the outcome.
It is the latest development in a long-running legal battle over the issue.
Last year, the High Court ruled that the advice on abortion was “misleading” and ordered the document to be completely withdrawn.
At the time, the department of health asked the court if two contentious sections could be reconsidered rather than withdrawing the full guidance, but this was rejected by the judge.
However, the Department reissued the same guidance with the two sections removed.
SPUC claimed that the Department was ignoring the court order, but the Department refused to give way.
It was this impasse that looked to be heading towards a trial in the High Court until the Department caved in.
The Department has written to Jim Wells, chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Health Committee, to say that the interim guidance has been withdrawn and that there will be a public consultation on the issue.
Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland unless the mother’s life is at risk.
SPUC’s Liam Gibson said: “When we challenged the original guidance in the High Court last year, the judge rejected a request from the Department that it should be allowed to withdraw only the sections on counselling and conscientious objection”.
He continued: “Health officials simply ignored this ruling. They quickly republished the guidance with those sections left out. Otherwise the document was unchanged.
“Both the information given to women and the rights of medical personnel are central to clinical practice.
“We believe that any guidance which says nothing about these issues is fundamentally flawed, and should never have been published. The Department finally seems to have accepted that.
“Until now, the health department has acted in a high-handed and belligerent manner regarding the guidance. The Department appeared determined to pursue its own agenda, rather than apply the law.”
Mr Gibson concluded: “We will be working closely with pro-life members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and its health committee to ensure that the Department’s consultation does not result in the rights of women, unborn children or the medical profession being undermined”.