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

Frederick Owens
June 8, 2018

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had argued that the law should be changed to allow abortions in cases where pregnancies were as a result of rape or incest, or in cases where the fetus had a fatal abnormality.

"The Supreme Court has confirmed that abortion laws breach human rights".

In a legal action heard at the U.K.'s Supreme Court in 2017, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, an independent public body, sought to force a change to the region's antiabortion laws.

On Thursday, Deputy Supreme Court president Lord Mance said the present law "clearly needs radical consideration".

A DUP MLA has said the number of people murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps during World War Two is comparable to the number of abortions since laws were relaxed in England, Scotland and Wales.

The Supreme Court judges said it would have required the case to have been brought by a woman who was pregnant as a result of sexual crime or who was carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality.

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Corey Stoughton, Liberty's advocacy director, said: "Today's ruling leaves the United Kingdom government out of excuses".

Contesting the appeal, the Northern Irish government's senior legal adviser, Attorney General John Larkin QC, said the criminal law on abortion is a matter for the "democratic judgment" of the legislature. "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. "Testimonies of being forced to travel, making their hard situations even more harrowing with lack of healthcare treatment at home", she said.

Northern Ireland's abortion laws prohibit abortion in all circumstances, except if the pregnancy puts the mother's life at risk or if it poses a risk of "serious and permanent damage" to her physical or mental health.

But even though the judges formally rejected the appeal before them, the legal opinions accompanying that rejection have spurred pro-choice campaigners to say that the Westminster government must act to effectively overrule devolution in Northern Ireland, and impose reform direct from London.

Abortion laws were relaxed in the rest of the U.K in 1967, but that legislation was never applied in Northern Ireland, which had its own parliament between the partition of Ireland in 1921 and the imposition of direct rule from London 50 years later.

Northen Ireland's abortion laws violates human rights, according to UK Supreme Court. The Northern Irish law pertaining to abortion is now the strictest in the United Kingdom and permits abortion only when there is real and substantial risk of loss of the woman's life, including from a risk of suicide, that can only be averted by carrying out an abortion.

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