Parliament emergency debate on abortion for Northern Ireland

Geneva Stokes
June 10, 2018

Britain's Supreme Court said on Thursday that Northern Ireland's strict abortion law was incompatible with human rights, but also said it did not have the powers to make a formal ruling that the law should be changed.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the current law is incompatible with Article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights - that is the right to respect for private and family life - in those three circumstances.

But the UK's Supreme Court ruled it had no jurisdiction to consider the legal challenge because the case wasn't brought forward from a victim who was pregnant as a result of rape or who was carrying a fetus with a fatal abnormality.

Currently, a termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health. However, a majority of the seven judges agreed that the law breached the European Convention of Human Rights in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality.

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

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

But Ms Bradley insisted her focus is on restoring the devolved assembly at Stormont, amid intense cross-party calls to liberalise Northern Ireland's abortion laws following the landslide pro-choice referendum victory in Ireland last month.

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

Abortion rights activists called the court's ruling on the law's incompatibility a "landmark decision" that would put pressure on the British government to act, while anti-abortion groups emphasized there was no requirement to do so.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said abortion is a devolved matter and should only be dealt with by Stormont, which is now suspended.

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.

"All eyes are now on the UK Government", Teggart added.

For Sinn Fein, Mrs O'Neill said she wanted repeal of the relevant sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act to ensure abortion was no longer treated as a criminal offence in the region.

Fellow Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt went further, saying MPs had sent a message to Northern Ireland's politicians that if they do not act on the issue, "we will". May relies for her parliamentary majority, opposes changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland.

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