UK Supreme Court declines ruling Northern Ireland’s abortion law

Clay Curtis
June 10, 2018

Britain's Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an effort to strike down Northern Ireland's strict laws on abortion, saying the human rights group behind the challenge lacked the standing to bring the suit.

Together For Yes co-founder Ailbhe Smyth said she welcomed the ruling because the majority of the judges involved in the case said Northern Ireland's laws were "incompatible" with human rights.

A majority of justices said they would have ruled the current law, which outlaws abortion even in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal anomaly, incompatible with the European Convention on Human rights (ECHR).

Currently, a termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

But they said the law was incompatible with the right to respect for private and family life as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ms Smyth said she hoped to see abortion legislated for in Northern Ireland in the next few years and she believed the success of the campaign in the Republic had been encouraging for women and campaigners north of the border. We now need to discuss how to provide better support for women in these very hard situations rather than liberalising abortion laws. The law does not, however, take into consideration pregnancy by rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality, which is when doctors determine if the unborn child has a life-threatening condition and will most likely die either in the womb or shortly after birth.

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"In making their claim, the judges frequently refer to A, B, and C v Ireland as a basis for their findings but ignore paragraph 214 of the majority opinion which states that article 8 can not be interpreted as conferring a right to access abortion".

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill said it was clear that legislative change is needed. And the sea change in the south has also mobilized anti-abortion activists in Northern Ireland.

"Treaty monitoring bodies, like the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, have no authority, either under the treaties that created them or under general global law, to interpret these treaties to include a right to access abortion". It shouldn't be over-ridden by Westminster. "Any wider move to decriminalisation is off the table now".

Campaigners celebrate result of the Republic of Ireland referendum which showed a landslide decision in favour of repealing the constitutional ban on abortions. Had she been in a country with a less restrictive abortion law, she could have sought the procedure much earlier.

"To Theresa May, I would say: 'We need change and help".

Britain's Northern Ireland minister has said she would like the law to be changed but that the matter should be decided by local politicians.

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