Supreme Court dismisses Northern Ireland abortion law appeal

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

By a majority decision, the justices said that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), which brought the appeal, did not have the power to "institute abstract proceedings of this nature".

"The Supreme Court has dismissed the case brought by the Human Rights Commission".

During proceedings in October, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) argued that the current law criminalises "exceptionally vulnerable" women and girls and subjects them to "inhuman and degrading" treatment.

"All eyes are now on the United Kingdom government. Theresa May can no longer sit back and do nothing whilst countless women continue to suffer on her watch", Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland campaigner said.

At some point in the future, these past two weeks may come to be seen as a tipping point, the moment when the drive to ease the draconian restrictions on abortion in Northern Ireland became an unstoppable force.

"This feels like a huge relief".

She also appeared to go against a judgement handed down last summer by the Court of Appeal in Belfast.

He said the divisions among Supreme Court justices on the Northern Ireland laws revealed a "complete lack of consensus" on the matter. "Testimonies of being forced to travel, making their hard situations even more harrowing with lack of healthcare treatment at home", she said.

"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". The prime minister must commit to reforming abortion law immediately or be complicit in the harm and inequality caused by the existing law.

The Supreme Court has today dismissed an attempt to overturn Northern Ireland's pro-life protections.

But even though the judges formally rejected the appeal before them, the legal opinions accompanying that rejection have spurred pro-choice campaigners to say that the Westminster government must act to effectively overrule devolution in Northern Ireland, and impose reform direct from London.

Lady Hale, the first woman to have been appointed to the top role, set out her view in a detailed legal opinion about the state of Northern Ireland's abortion laws this morning. The Northern Irish law pertaining to abortion is now the strictest in the United Kingdom and permits abortion only when there is real and substantial risk of loss of the woman's life, including from a risk of suicide, that can only be averted by carrying out an abortion.

She added, "That is why the government, like its predecessors, believes that the best forum to debate and resolve these and many other matters is a locally elected Northern Ireland assembly, so the government's priority remains to urgently re-establish strong, inclusive, devolved government at the earliest opportunity".

Related news: