UK Supreme Court criticizes Northern Ireland abortion laws


Campaigners have lost a Supreme Court appeal over the legality of Northern Ireland's strict abortion law - despite a majority of justices declaring it is "incompatible" with human rights laws.

But a majority of the judges also found that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had no legal standing to bring its challenge against the laws as they dismissed it on a technicality.

Despite the decision, a majority of the seven-strong panel of justices in London expressed the "clear opinion" that the current legislation is "incompatible" with European human rights laws in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.

As a result, the judges did not make a formal declaration of incompatibility, which would normally lead to a change in the law.

The Supreme Court ruling, released on Thursday morning, highlights that the current law is "disproportionate and incompatible" in relation to Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Britain's Northern Ireland minister has said she would like the law to be changed, but it was up to the people of Northern Ireland.

Following Ireland's vote in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment, NI is the only part of the United Kingdom and Ireland where abortions are illegal.

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

Although the decision of the court appears highly-complex, Lady Hale also suggested that the law on abortion in Northern Ireland is no more confusing than other legal positions.

She added: "It is a matter of fundamental human rights on which, hard though it is, the courts are as well qualified to judge as is the legislature". [It] makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue.

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. "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.

Mr Corbyn said: "I would say very politely to Arlene Foster, you were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, maybe you should play your part in ensuring that Assembly functions and we get a devolved administration working in Northern Ireland. A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women". In 2017, 919 women from Northern Ireland sought an abortion in England and Wales, according to U.K. Department of Health statistics.

Northern Ireland's elected assembly, which has powers to legislate on the issue, voted against liberalising the law in February 2016.