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U.K. Top Court Criticizes Strict Northern Irish Abortion Law

U.K. Top Court Criticizes Strict Northern Irish Abortion Law

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.

Although judges ruled that Northern Ireland's Human Rights Commission didn't have the power to bring the case, they said the region's extensive restrictions were incompatible with human rights law.

Lord Kerr said that, by a majority of five to two, "the court has expressed the clear view that the law of Northern Ireland on abortion is incompatible with Article 8 of the Convention in relation to cases of fatal foetal abnormality and by a majority of four to three that it is also incompatible with that article in cases of rape and incest".

Currently, women can only access an abortion in Northern Ireland if their life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to physical or mental health.

The commission a year ago argued that the current law criminalises "exceptionally vulnerable" women and girls and subjects them to "inhuman and degrading" treatment.

At the end of May, the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to overturn an abortion ban - prompting debate around the issue in Northern Ireland.

Abortion laws were relaxed in the rest of the U.K in 1967, but that legislation was never applied in Northern Ireland, which had its own parliament between the partition of Ireland in 1921 and the imposition of direct rule from London 50 years later.




That part of the ruling gave hope to abortion rights activists seeking to liberalize Northern Ireland's 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.

The justices said the Supreme Court "has no jurisdiction" in the proceedings to make a declaration of incompatibility.

Sarah Ewart, a woman who was forced to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion after being told her baby would not survive, intervened alongside Amnesty in the case. Members from throughout the House - including government ministers - stood to back Labour MP Stella Creasy's call for a debate.

What is the law on abortion in Northern Ireland?

Fellow Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt went further, saying MPs had sent a message to Northern Ireland's politicians that if they do not act on the issue, "we will".

Contesting the appeal, the Stormont Executive's senior legal adviser, Attorney General John Larkin QC, said Northern Ireland's criminal law on abortion is a matter for the "democratic judgment" of the legislature. Amnesty is calling for the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which would decriminalise abortion and enable a Human Right compliant healthcare framework to be put in place.


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