United Kingdom top court says can't enforce abortion law change in Northern Ireland


A termination is now only permitted if there is a serious risk to a woman's life or her health.

The UK's highest court said on Thursday that Northern Ireland's abortion laws are incompatible with human rights legislation.

In the past fortnight, the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland has been thrust onto the front pages.

"This is clearly a complex area of law, an extremely sensitive subject matter which raises a number of different issues to consider".

It comes a day after MPs at Westminster debated calls for change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

He added that while this is not a binding decision it was "worthy of close consideration by those in whose power it lies to decide whether the law should be altered".

Rebecca Schiller, Chief Executive of Birthrights, the UK's only organisation human rights during pregnancy and childbirth said: "These last weeks have made it clear that we can no longer ignore the continued suffering and violation of Northern Irish women's human rights". While the case was dismissed, women's groups may have lost the battle but they are winning the war.

Then Stella Creasy MP led an impassioned debate in the House of Commons on removing abortion from criminal law across the United Kingdom, most significantly impacting upon Northern Ireland.

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"Court judgment today is further evidence of women being failed by the system - a need for urgent reform". The criminal sanctions imposed upon women are amongst the harshest in the world, with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment.

"Let me reassure those MPs who want to uphold the role of devolved assemblies", said Creasy, "that repealing OAPA would not write a particular abortion law for anyone, but it would require them to act".

The UK Government has resisted calls to step in and legislate, insisting that any decision on abortion in the region has to be taken by locally elected politicians in Northern Ireland.

The U.K.'s high court, however, says the challenge lacked standing because it was not brought by an actual victim of the law.

So, in response to this judgment the Westminster Parliament must now act.

However, pressure has been mounting on NI to liberalise its laws.

"The view from the Supreme Court is clear - politicians can no longer duck our responsibilities to properly analyse and legislate on hard issues".

However, the fact that the Supreme Court dismissed the case because of doubts about the Human Rights Commission's right to bring it means the judges' views on the anti-abortion laws do not have legal force, which is reassuring for abortion foes.