Britain's top court says can not rule on Northern Ireland abortion law

Leroy Wright
June 8, 2018

Lady Hale, the first woman to have been appointed to the top role, set out her view in a detailed legal opinion about the state of Northern Ireland's abortion laws this morning.

Rosa Curling, a solicitor with Leigh Day, representing a coalition of pro-choice organisations, said there were "no longer any excuses" to deny women in Northern Ireland the same rights granted to women elsewhere in the UK.

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.

A majority of the court decided that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which initiated the case, did not have the standing to bring the challenge to the abortion law.

The justices went on to say, however, that a majority finds Northern Ireland's abortion prohibitions "disproportionate" and that they violate European human rights laws.

"Abortion has been a devolved matter in Northern Ireland since it was created in 1921, and it would not be appropriate for Westminster to seek to impose its will, or to be the arbiter of an issue that has always been devolved to the people of Northern Ireland".

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

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Laurence Wilkinson, legal counsel for ADF International, a group that advocates the right to live according to religious belief, said it welcomes the dismissal of the case, asserting that "at least 100,000 people in Northern Ireland are alive today" because of the decision not to liberalize laws in 1967, when Wales, England and Scotland eased restrictions. [It] makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue.

Mrs Foster has said that abortion is a devolved matter and should only be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been suspended since January 2017.

"All eyes are now on the United Kingdom government".

At the end of May, the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to overturn an abortion ban - prompting debate around the issue in Northern Ireland. The prime minister must commit to reforming abortion law immediately or be complicit in the harm and inequality caused by the existing law.

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".

"No formal declaration has been made by the court and the appeal has been dismissed, but the analysis and comments from the court on the issue of incompatibility will be clearly heard by the House of Commons and politicians in Northern Ireland".

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