UK Supreme Court Rejects Legal Challenge to Northern Ireland Abortion Laws

Stella Creasy in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon  Credit

Stella Creasy in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon Credit

By a majority decision, the justices said that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), which brought the appeal, did not have the power to "institute abstract proceedings of this nature". It said the near-total ban on terminations breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

The debate on Northern Ireland's restrictions on abortion has intensified after citizens in the Irish Republic voted by a landslide last month to liberalise the state's laws. As such, the court does not have jurisdiction to make a declaration of incompatibility in this case.

But the justices agreed with the commission that the abortion ban violates human rights - specifically in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormalities.

The referendum inspired a similar debate in Northern Ireland with some calling for reform while others like the Democratic Union Party remain opposed to changing the existing law.

"Watching MPs saying how sad they feel about situation in Northern Ireland but shrugging their duties to act to protect human rights set out in Good Friday agreement makes you wonder if they have even read it and responsibilities it gives United Kingdom parliament".

"This is hugely significant and makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue".

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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.

The Supreme Court has today dismissed an attempt to overturn Northern Ireland's pro-life protections. "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said that abortion is a devolved matter and should only be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is now suspended.

She added: "I for one want to be a legislator that brings about that change, but because of the DUP's denial of rights, and the fact we don't have an institution, because of the DUP's denial of rights what we need to see is the inter-governmental conference to meet and for them to deal with the rights-based issues, including the issue of women's healthcare".

Ordinarily, this finding would have ended the matter, however the judges recognised the compelling evidence and gave their conclusions regardless - the majority set out in strong language the breaches of human rights they had found, which, they felt, "could not be safely ignored". Two judges went even further and held that the law in Northern Ireland is also incompatible with the prohibition on torture.

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