UK Supreme Court criticizes Northern Ireland abortion laws

UK Supreme Court criticizes Northern Ireland abortion laws

UK Supreme Court criticizes Northern Ireland abortion laws

There have been calls for the UK Parliament to legislate for abortion reform in Northern Ireland in the absence of a functioning devolved government.

This is because the court found that the Northern Irish Human Rights Commission (the body that brought the case) did not have the power to bring these proceedings forward, as it was not itself a "victim' of any unlawful act".

Despite this, numerous judges said the existing law was incompatible with human rights law in situations of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.

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.

"The commission had argued the law criminalizes vulnerable women and girls and subjects them to inhumane and degrading treatment in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights", NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

In its ruling, a majority of Supreme Court judges agreed, saying banning abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormality was incompatible with family life provisions of human rights law in Britain.

The decision comes after the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal its Eighth Amendment, legalising abortion for Irish women up to 12 weeks after conception "with no restriction as to reason".

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The court does not have jurisdiction to make a declaration of incompatibility [with human rights law] in this case. The debate will center on overturning Northern Ireland's abortion law and removing legal protections for unborn children throughout the United Kingdom by repealing the 1861 Offences against the Person Act.

However, a majority of the seven judges presiding over the appeal declared that Northern Ireland's law on abortion is "incompatible" with Human Rights Law. [It] makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue. The court dismissed the case without taking action.

This surely means the UK Government must now act to change the law. But though some British lawmakers have floated the idea of changing the abortion law directly from London, Prime Minister Theresa May is unlikely to push for such a change.

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

"This is a landmark decision that I hope will lead to changes that will improve the lives of women in Northern Ireland and the care they receive".

"This is a devolved matter and any attempt to change the law without the consent of the Assembly would be a breach of the devolution settlement".

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