Landmark ruling on Northern Ireland's abortion law looms at Supreme Court

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

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

She said May has an obligation to make sure the United Kingdom government is "now longer acting unlawfully by breaching the human rights of women across Northern Ireland".

The president of the UK's highest court has said that she has "little doubt" that Northern Ireland's abortion law inflicts "inhuman or degrading" treatment on some women.

"Abortion in cases where there is a fatal fetal abnormality or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest is available throughout the vast majority of countries in Europe", Supreme Court Justice Brian Kerr said in his written judgment in support of the court's conclusions.

The court ruled that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission didn't have the power to bring the case.

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.

But the justices agreed with the commission that the abortion ban violates human rights - specifically in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormalities.

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

"Abortion has been a devolved matter in Northern Ireland since it was created in 1921, and it would not be appropriate for Westminster to seek to impose its will, or to be the arbiter of an issue that has always been devolved to the people of Northern Ireland".

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"A majority concludes that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission does not have standing to bring these proceedings".

"Although the court considered that it was unable to issue a declaration of incompatibility, it has clearly recognized the harm that the near-total prohibition on abortion is causing women and girls", Ms. Hoctor said. [It] makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue.

"All eyes are now on the UK Government".

The decision comes after the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal its Eighth Amendment, legalising abortion for Irish women up to 12 weeks after conception "with no restriction as to reason".

"Public opinion is clear on this issue with around 70% of the population supporting abortion law reform".

"I would like to pay tribute to the women who intervened in this case and gave their personal testimonies on the appalling impact of abortion law in Northern Ireland. A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

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.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has previously insisted that any decision on abortion in the region is a matter for Northern Ireland's locally elected politicians at Stormont.

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