Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
World Media | By Cesar Oliver

Parliament emergency debate on abortion for Northern Ireland

Parliament emergency debate on abortion for Northern Ireland

Britain's Supreme Court on Thursday said it could not rule on an appeal against Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws, but that it would have declared them incompatible with human rights laws otherwise.

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by human rights campaigners over the legality of Northern Ireland's abortion law.

Belfast's High Court ruled in December 2015 that the law was incompatible with article eight of the ECHR - the right to respect for private and family life - due to the absence of exceptions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies resulting from sexual offences. 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.

The issue came to a head partly because citizens of Ireland voted overwhelmingly last month to ease that country's abortion ban, galvanizing many in British-ruled Northern Ireland to renew the fight to scrap that country's similarly restrictive law. One group of activists drove around Northern Ireland distributing abortion pills.

A majority of the judges declared NI's existing law "incompatible" with human rights laws.

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.

Those responsible for ensuring the compatibility of Northern Ireland law with the Convention rights will no doubt recognise and take account of these conclusions, at as early a time as possible, by considering whether and how to amend the law, in the light of the ongoing suffering being caused by it'. [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. "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

The referendum reignited a debate about Northern Ireland's law, with some calling for reform while others - including the biggest party, the Democratic Unionist Party - remain opposed to changing the law.

Sarah Ewart, a woman who was forced to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion after being told her baby would not survive, intervened alongside Amnesty in the case.

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.

The issue is further clouded by the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly, a power-sharing regional government set up by the 1998 Good Friday accord.

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