UK Supreme Court dismisses appeal to overturn N. Ireland's strict abortion laws

UK Supreme Court dismisses appeal to overturn N. Ireland's strict abortion laws

Kerry Wise
June 9, 2018

"Watching MPs saying how sad they feel about situation in Northern Ireland but shrugging their duties to act to protect human rights set out in Good Friday agreement makes you wonder if they have even read it and responsibilities it gives United Kingdom parliament".

Human-rights campaigners lost their case over the legality of Northern Ireland's abortion law on a technicality.

The human rights group did not have the legal standing to make the appeal, the Supreme Court said in its ruling.

In 2017, the Court of Appeal ruled that even if the abortion law did violate human rights, it could only be changed by a devolved government.

The majority of judges ruled that the country's abortion law breaches Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), by not allowing abortions in cases of sexual crime (rape and incest) and fatal foetal abnormalities.

The 1967 Abortion Act has never applied in Northern Ireland.

But the momentum for change will gather strength from the complicated judgment, which comes two days after forceful arguments for reform were presented in a House of Commons emergency debate, and less than two weeks after the Irish Republic voted by a landslide to repeal its constitutional protection of the unborn.

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.

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Amnesty International and women who have been directly impacted by the abortion law intervened in the case, providing evidence that the near total abortion ban is a violation of women's rights.

"This is hugely significant and makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue".

"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".

"A majority of the court dismisses the appeal", notes the Supreme Court statement.

Theresa May was today urged to defy her DUP backers and to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. The Victorian law governing abortion in Northern Ireland, the 1861 Offenses Against the Persons Act, is one of the most restrictive in Europe.

Because of Northern Ireland legislation, newly-wed Sarah travelled to London for a termination at her own expense, with flights and hotels included, of more than £2,100. "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

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