U.K. Court Ruling Leaves Northern Ireland Abortion Law Unchanged

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Britain's Supreme Court on Thursday said it could not rule on an appeal against Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws, but that it would have declared them incompatible with human rights laws otherwise.

A majority of the court decided that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which initiated the case, did not have the standing to bring the challenge to the abortion law.

A majority of the seven-strong panel of justices expressed the "clear opinion" that the current legislation was "incompatible" with European human rights laws in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.

As a result, the judges did not make a formal declaration of incompatibility, which would normally lead to a change in the law.

The NIHRC claims the law's effect on women is incompatible with rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The court was asked to rule that a prohibition on abortions where a pregnancy arises from rape or incest, or "involves a serious foetal abnormality", is unlawful.

At some point in the future, these past two weeks may come to be seen as a tipping point, the moment when the drive to ease the draconian restrictions on abortion in Northern Ireland became an unstoppable force. "Westminster must act now to decriminalise abortion across the United Kingdom and grant basic bodily autonomy to the women of Northern Ireland".

The court dismissed an appeal brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).

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Rosa Curling, a solicitor with Leigh Day, representing a coalition of pro-choice organisations, said there were "no longer any excuses" to deny women in Northern Ireland the same rights granted to women elsewhere in the UK.

Currently, women can only access an abortion in Northern Ireland if their life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to physical or mental health.

"Until such times as the legal framework caters for what are very basic human rights, our client, Sarah Ewart, has made it clear that she will continue to take the case to the highest level to ensure that no woman has to go through the traumatic experience in which she was so forced".

"All eyes are now on the UK Government", Teggart added.

Following the results of the Republic of Ireland's Eighth Amendment Referendum, renewed pressure has been cast on the Northern Ireland Assembly to reform and legislate for abortion there. "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

The issue is further clouded by the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly, a power-sharing regional government set up by the 1998 Good Friday accord.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has previously insisted that any decision on abortion in the region is a matter for Northern Ireland's locally elected politicians at Stormont.

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