U.K. Court Ruling Leaves Northern Ireland Abortion Law Unchanged

In 2015, the High Court ruled that abortion legislation in Northern Ireland did violate human rights under European Union law.

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

Therefore, the court can not deliver a ruling on the issue.

Women in Northern Ireland are legally able to seek an abortion only if their lives are in danger or they are at risk of serious long-term physical or mental harm.

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

Belfast's High Court made a declaration in December 2015 that the law was incompatible with Article 8 of the ECHR - the right to respect for private and family life - because of the absence of exceptions to the general prohibition on abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies resulting from sexual offences.

"Labour's position has always been that abortion rights should be extended, without fear or favour, across the whole of the United Kingdom".

When Ireland replaces the constitutional ban with more liberal legislation after a debate in parliament, Northern Ireland will be the only remaining region in Britain and Ireland to outlaw the procedure.

Abortion is unlawful in all but the most extreme cases.

But the justices agreed with the commission that the abortion ban violates human rights - specifically in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormalities. [It] makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue.

"All eyes are now on the UK Government".

Theresa May was today urged to defy her DUP backers and to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. But though some British lawmakers have floated the idea of changing the abortion law directly from London, Prime Minister Theresa May is unlikely to push for such a change.

But the court's opinion, while laid out at length, is not binding because the case has been dismissed on technical grounds. The Northern Ireland assembly has not sat for 17 months. "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women". Heidi Allen, a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) spoke in favor of changing Northern Ireland's laws, citing her own experience having an abortion.

Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC had argued against the NIHRC case, saying that the Province's law on abortion was a matter for the "democratic judgment" of the legislature.

  • Joey Payne