UK Supreme Court says it can not rule on Northern Ireland’s abortion law

Aaron Brown
June 9, 2018

Supreme Court judges said the existing law in Northern Ireland was incompatible with human rights law, but dismissed an appeal by the Human Rights Commission on technical grounds.

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.

"As such, the court does not have jurisdiction to make a declaration of incompatibility [with human rights law] in this case", the court said in a summary of the decision.

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".

In the wake of the Irish referendum last month, which overturned a prohibition on abortion that had been part of the constitution since the 1980s, attention has turned north of the border. Nevertheless, she argued repeal would still allow Northern Irish legislators to fix limitations on abortion.

"Labour's position has always been that abortion rights should be extended, without fear or favour, across the whole of the United Kingdom".

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Any changes to the law will now be up to political leaders, the BBC writes.

'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. No 10 says it should be dealt with by Stormont once devolution is restored. In 2016, lawmakers there, led by the DUP, voted to maintain the antiabortion policy.

Even so, Justice Brenda M. Hale, president of the court, said that a majority "are of the firm and clear opinion that the current law is incompatible with Article 8" of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Britain is a party.

She compared the current laws in Northern Ireland to the dystopian Republic of Gilead in the novel a Handmaid's Tale where women's reproductive rights are controlled by the state.

Despite the decision to uphold the law, pro-choice activists said they welcomed the judges' ruling.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had challenged the law in court. Sarah Ewart said she meant to take a case to Belfast's High Court to seek the declaration of incompatibility the commission was unable to obtain.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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