Supreme Court rejects NI abortion law case

Image copyright PA
Image caption Human rights campaigners held banners at the Supreme Court in London on Thursday morning

Human rights campaigners have lost a Supreme Court appeal over the legality of Northern Ireland’s abortion law.

The court dismissed an appeal brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).

But a majority of judges said the existing law was incompatible with human rights law in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.

Unlike other parts of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland.

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.

‘Inhuman’ treatment?

The commission lost on the issue of whether they had the required standing to bring the case, and analysts suggest the defeat came because of a technical legal point.

The Supreme Court judges said it would have required the case to have been brought by a woman who was pregnant as a result of sexual crime or who was carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality.

A fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis means doctors believe an unborn child has a terminal condition and will die in the womb or shortly after birth, although anti-abortion campaigners have argued that terminally-ill babies “can and do defy the odds”.

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Media captionThe law on abortion in Northern Ireland explained

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

The ruling comes just weeks after the Republic of Ireland voted decisively in a referendum to reform the country’s strict abortion laws, which had effectively banned all terminations.