Human rights campaigners lose Northern Ireland abortion appeal

Don’t ask Northern Irish women to beg for their human rights with an abortion referendum

By a majority ruling, judges at the Supreme Court in London found that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had no legal standing to bring its challenge against the abortion law.

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

"The Supreme Court has confirmed that abortion laws breach human rights".

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.

Northern Ireland's elected assembly has the authority to decide on any changes to its abortion laws.

"It's my strong, personal, view that it is completely unsustainable for us to have a different law from the south on abortion".

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

But three of Northern Ireland's most senior judges overturned that decision in June a year ago, saying it was a question for the elected assembly, not the courts.

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Those responsible for ensuring the compatibility of Northern Ireland law with the Convention rights will no doubt recognise and take account of these conclusions, at as early a time as possible, by considering whether and how to amend the law, in the light of the ongoing suffering being caused by it'.

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

Laurence Wilkinson, legal counsel for ADF International, a group that advocates the right to live according to religious belief, said it welcomes the dismissal of the case, asserting that "at least 100,000 people in Northern Ireland are alive today" because of the decision not to liberalize laws in 1967, when Wales, England and Scotland eased restrictions.

This surely means the UK Government must now act to change the law. Since the Irish referendum was approved, British Prime Minister Theresa May has dealt with mounting pressure to reform Northern Ireland's abortion statutes.

Speaking to assembled media on Thursday morning, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, meanwhile, stated that the issues relating to Northern Ireland's abortion law should be decided "by the people who live in Northern Ireland".

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.

The Northern Ireland Secretary confirmed if abortion came before the House of Commons then a free vote would take place, as it is a "matter of conscience". "What we need is compassion and services in Northern Ireland". 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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