Supreme Court rejects Northern Ireland abortion law case

08 June, 2018, 08:30 | Author: Sheila Harris
  • Theresa May has been urged to support liberalisation of Northern Ireland's laws

Campaigners have lost a Supreme Court appeal challenging Northern Ireland's strict abortion law - despite a majority of justices declaring it is "incompatible" with human legislation.

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.

However, the fact that the Supreme Court dismissed the case because of doubts about the Human Rights Commission's right to bring it means the judges' views on the anti-abortion laws do not have legal force, which is reassuring for abortion foes.

A QC representing the commission argued that human rights were being breached, with those affected being forced to go through "physical and mental torture".

Strict Northern Ireland laws that prohibit abortions in cases of pregnancy as a result of incest or rape, and in cases when the fetus has a likely fatal abnormality, have drawn scrutiny since the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in May to repeal its own strict laws.

Sarah Ewart, a Northern Ireland woman who was forced to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion after being told her baby would not survive said getting involved in the case had been worth all the effort.

Currently, the Abortion Act 1967 does not apply in Northern Ireland, where abortion is legal only to preserve the life of the mother.

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However, a majority (Lord Mance, Lord Reed, Lady Black and Lord Lloyd-Jones) also said that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission "does not have standing to bring these proceedings".

In Northern Ireland, women are only permitted to terminate their pregnancy when their life is in danger or the pregnancy runs a serious risk to their mental or physical health.

Ewart, right, has said she intends to bring the case to Belfast's High Court.

The UK Government has resisted calls to step in and legislate, insisting that any decision on abortion in the region has to be taken by locally elected politicians in Northern Ireland. Since the Irish referendum was approved, British Prime Minister Theresa May has dealt with mounting pressure to reform Northern Ireland's abortion statutes.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph.

The current law has "a significant chilling effect" on women seeking abortions and medical professionals who may wish to help them, he added.

LONDON-Britain's Supreme Court rejected a legal bid Thursday to overturn Northern Ireland's near-total ban on abortions, but set the stage for future challenges.

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