United Kingdom court criticizes Northern Ireland abortion law but rejects bid for reform

Stella Creasy in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon  Credit

Stella Creasy in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon Credit

During the three-day appeal hearing, a QC representing the commission argued that human rights were being breached, with those affected being forced to go through "physical and mental torture".

Five of the seven justices in the high court concluded that Northern Ireland's abortion law violated European conventions in not allowing abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities.

This is because the court found that the Northern Irish Human Rights Commission (the body that brought the case) did not have the power to bring these proceedings forward, as it was not itself a "victim' of any unlawful act".

The commission previous year argued that the current law criminalises "exceptionally vulnerable" women and girls and subjects them to "inhuman and degrading" treatment.

When Ireland replaces the constitutional ban with more liberal legislation after a debate in parliament, Northern Ireland will be the only remaining region in Britain and Ireland to outlaw the procedure.

However, the fact that the Supreme Court dismissed the case because of doubts about the Human Rights Commission's right to bring it means the judges' views on the anti-abortion laws do not have legal force, which is reassuring for abortion foes.




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

Rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which abortion can be performed legally. [It] makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue.

Research by Both Lives Matter has shown that an estimated 100,000 people are alive today because of Northern Ireland's stance.

She added, "That is why the government, like its predecessors, believes that the best forum to debate and resolve these and many other matters is a locally elected Northern Ireland assembly, so the government's priority remains to urgently re-establish strong, inclusive, devolved government at the earliest opportunity".

MsEwart, who has campaigned for change alongside Amnesty International since her abortion, said Northern Ireland's politicians should put their "religious beliefs behind them and do their job". Since the Irish referendum was approved, British Prime Minister Theresa May has dealt with mounting pressure to reform Northern Ireland's abortion statutes. "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

'The need for amendment is evident... the present legislative position in Northern Ireland is untenable and intrinsically disproportionate in excluding from any possibility of abortion pregnancies involving fatal foetal abnormality or due to rape or incest... the present law clearly needs radical reconsideration.

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