UK Supreme Court majority finds N.Ireland abortion law violates human rights

Pauline Gross
June 8, 2018

The court said it could not rule on the commissions' challenge to Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws, but that it would have declared them incompatible with human rights laws otherwise.

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.

The Supreme Court ruling, released on Thursday morning, highlights that the current law is "disproportionate and incompatible" in relation to Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Strict Northern Ireland laws that prohibit abortions in cases of pregnancy as a result of incest or rape, and in cases when the fetus has a likely fatal abnormality, have drawn scrutiny since the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in May to repeal its own strict laws.

The BBC's health correspondent in Northern Ireland calls the situation "a weird set of circumstances". In 2016, more than 700 women traveled from Northern Ireland to England and Wales to get an abortion.

She added: "I also have little doubt that there will be some women whose suffering on being denied a lawful abortion in Northern Ireland, in the three situations under discussion here, will reach the threshold of severity required to label the treatment "inhuman or degrading".

Northern Ireland - unlike every other part of the United Kingdom - criminalizes abortion except when a woman's life or health is in danger.

According to Precious Life, a pro-life group in Northern Ireland, the pro-abortion Labour MP Stella Creasy has secured an emergency debate on Northern Ireland's abortion laws June 5 in the UK's House of Commons.

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"A majority concludes that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission does not have standing to bring these proceedings".

The court does not have jurisdiction to make a declaration of incompatibility [with human rights law] in this case.

What is the law on abortion in Northern Ireland?

"This is hugely significant and makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue". "Theresa May can no longer sit back and do nothing whilst countless women continue to suffer on her watch", Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland campaigner said.

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.

The prime minister privately told Conservative MPs that she does not support action to reform Northern Ireland's laws.

The UK Government has resisted calls to step in and legislate amid the ongoing powersharing impasse in Northern Ireland, insisting that any decision on abortion in the region has to be taken by locally elected politicians at Stormont.

Other reports by GizPress

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