Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
Global Media | By Jackie Banks

Supreme Court rejects attempt to liberalise Northern Ireland abortion law

Supreme Court rejects attempt to liberalise Northern Ireland abortion law

It was ruled that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission did not have the power to bring a case, due to the law's rights not being infringed with.

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

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"The court does not have jurisdiction to make a declaration of incompatibility in this case."

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NIHRC told the court in October that the current law criminalizes women and girls, subjecting them to "inhuman and degrading" treatment.

Four out of seven Supreme Court justices who considered the issue found that the North's current law, which bans abortion except when a mother's life is at risk, was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The 1967 Abortion Act has never applied in Northern Ireland.

As it now stands, abortion is only legal in Northern Ireland if the life of the woman is endangered.

The Supreme Court today delivered its judgment on a 2017 hearing considering whether Northern Ireland's near total abortion ban violates women's rights.

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

The appeal judges said the law in Northern Ireland should be left to the Stormont Assembly and not judges, saying the complex moral and religious questions behind the issue should be determined by a legislature rather than a court. "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

The debate on Northern Ireland's restrictions on abortion has intensified after citizens in the Irish Republic voted by a landslide last month to liberalise the state's laws.

Many Conservative lawmakers say that the law in Northern Ireland should be brought into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, but DUP leader Arlene Foster is committed to maintaining the province's strict abortion laws. "These are sentient human beings who have every right to life, who have every right to be protected".

An emergency debate on the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland was held in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Jim Wells claimed the numbers murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps were comparable to the number of terminations since abortion laws were relaxed in England, Scotland and Wales.

For Sinn Fein, 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.

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