UK Supreme Court dismisses case to overturn Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws

Posted June 10, 2018

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.

"The Supreme Court has dismissed the case brought by the Human Rights Commission".

The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in February 2016 against legalising abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape or incest.

The vocal anti-abortion campaigner made the remarks amid growing calls for reform of the law in Northern Ireland, where terminations are banned in all but extreme circumstances.

"This must be the final nail in the coffin for Northern Ireland's abortion ban".

The devolved government in the British province is responsible for deciding abortion laws, but Westminster can step in if legislation is deemed to contravene the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In the past fortnight, the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland has been thrust onto the front pages.

Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights in Geneva, which made a submission in the case, said the Supreme Court judgment was "an indictment" of Northern Ireland's restrictive law.

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

But the case for change has received fresh impetus from the Republic of Ireland's landmark referendum vote to legalise abortion last month. The prime minister must commit to reforming abortion law immediately or be complicit in the harm and inequality caused by the existing law.

Britain's Northern Ireland minister has said she would like the law to be changed, but it was up to the people of Northern Ireland.

An emergency debate on the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland was held in the House of Commons on Tuesday. It is now time to listen to the women of the United Kingdom and ensure safe, accessible abortion - which saves and improves lives - is available to everyone who needs it.

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".

Lord Kerr stated that the answer to the breaches of human rights could be achieved through an amendment to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and the Criminal Justice Act (NI) 1945.

"Women have been criminalised when they find themselves in very, very hard circumstances, so we welcome that debate but clearly we need to see legislative change here in the north".