Christian group defeated in High Court over new coronavirus lockdown abortion laws

19 May 2020, 16:10 | Updated: 19 May 2020, 18:38

The challenge was being heard at the High Court
The challenge was being heard at the High Court. Picture: PA
Ewan Somerville

By Ewan Somerville

A Christian group has lost a legal bid against the Government over emergency abortion laws brought in for the coronavirus pandemic.

Christian Concern brought a High Court challenge against the new rules, which allow pregnant women to have medical abortions at home following phone or video consultation with a doctor.

The group argued the changes rolled out by the Department of Health and Social Care put women’s lives “at risk”.

The court was told on Tuesday that the new policy, which applies up to 10 weeks of pregnancy and is limited for two years, “usurps proper parliamentary procedure”.

But senior judges threw out the case, saying the grounds for legal action “are not properly arguable” and refused to grant a judicial review.

Lord Justice Singh, sitting with Mr Justice Chamberlain, ruled: “The issue of abortion raises questions of ethics and social policy on which many people have strongly held views, which are sometimes diametrically opposed and irreconcilable.”

The judge said those questions were not for the courts to determine, adding that the role of the court is “to determine the lawfulness of the Secretary of State’s decision, nothing else”.

Christian Concern said it intended to appeal against the judgment in the Court of Appeal.

Andrea Williams, the group’s chief executive, called the ruling “disappointing”, adding: "We intend to appeal this judgment in order to preserve our hard-won democratic freedoms which do not allow the government to make dangerous changes to the law without proper evidence or parliamentary scrutiny.

"This is not an academic matter. As the government said itself, this policy puts many vulnerable women at risk.”

Michael Phillips, barrister for Christian Concern, told the court that “for the last half a century” women have had protections under the Abortion Act 1967 and “as a result of this amendment, those have been lost”.

He added: “This is not just about abortion procedures to be followed in the pandemic, it is about the usurping of proper parliamentary procedure.

“Women’s lives have been put at risk because of this amendment.”

In written documents to the court, Mr Phillips said the Government has failed to fully take into account factors such as the physical and psychological risks for women and the risk of women being coerced into an abortion.

He also pointed to the risk of a woman taking abortion drugs prescribed for another person, and the risk that they will be taken outside the 10-week gestation limit.

Mr Phillips said the decision “represents a very significant change of the substantive abortion law, with massive impact on the delicate balance of competing rights and interests involved in this issue”.

Christian Concern revealed it would be launching legal action last month after a double Government U-turn over its abortion laws.

Ministers initially said that women and girls would be allowed to take abortion pills at home and doctors to prescribe from their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hours later, the statement was removed from the department’s website, with officials saying it was “published in error".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that abortion rules would not be changed as part of the response to the Covid-19 outbreak but days later the current change was implemented. The DHSC has been approached for comment.

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