U.K. Court Ruling Leaves Northern Ireland Abortion Law Unchanged

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption The law on abortion in Northern Ireland explained
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption The law on abortion in Northern Ireland explained

09 June, 2018

The court said it could not rule on the commissions' challenge to Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws, but that it would have declared them incompatible with human rights laws otherwise.

However, a different four of the seven ruled that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which had initiated legal proceedings to try to liberalize the law, did not have the right to bring the case.

The U.K.'s high court, however, says the challenge lacked standing because it was not brought by an actual victim of the law.

Mrs O'Neill said she wanted repeal of the relevant sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act to ensure abortion was no longer treated as a criminal offence in the region.

Abortion rights activists called the court's ruling on the law's incompatibility a "landmark decision" that would put pressure on the British government to act, while anti-abortion groups emphasized there was no requirement to do so.

The party's chief whip, Jeffrey Donaldson, told parliament he was "proud of the fact that there are so many people alive in Northern Ireland today because we have a law that respects the rights of both women and of the unborn child".

What is the law on abortion in Northern Ireland?

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The majority of judges ruled that the country's abortion law breaches Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), by not allowing abortions in cases of sexual crime (rape and incest) and fatal foetal abnormalities. "Westminster must act now to decriminalise abortion across the United Kingdom and grant basic bodily autonomy to the women of Northern Ireland".

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.

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

"A majority of the court dismisses the appeal", notes the Supreme Court statement.

The ruling on a technicality will come as a relief for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who previously said that the province should decide its own abortion policy. MPs said women are risking their lives by taking abortion pills online or having back-street procedures because they do not have legal rights of termination.

"We welcome the clear position taken by the Government in respecting the right of the Assembly to legislate on abortion, reflecting the will of the people of Northern Ireland".

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