Britain's Supreme Court rejects Northern Ireland abortion law case

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.

The commission lost
on the issue of whether they had the required standing to bring the case.

Analysts have said that the commission's defeat came because of a technical legal point.

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.

'Worthy of close consideration'

The challenge to the law was brought by the NIHRC but, on Thursday, 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.

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

Any change in the law will now be up to the politicians, either in Belfast or Westminster.

Lord Justice Kerr told the court that by a majority of five to two, "the court has expressed the clear view that the law of Northern Ireland on abortion is incompatible with article 8 of the Convention in relation to cases of fatal foetal abnormality and by a majority of 4 to 3 that it is also incompatible with that article in cases of rape and incest".

He added that while this is not a binding decision "it must nevertheless be worthy of close consideration by those" who decide the law.


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