Supreme Court rules that ban on abortion in Northern Ireland contrary to human rights
The supreme court has ruled that Northern Ireland's exemption from humane abortion law is incompatible with the Human Rights Act and 'deeply unsatisfactory', but have stopped short of overturning the law.
Lord Kerr, a Justice of the Supreme Court and a former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, said 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 four to three that it is also incompatible with that article in cases of rape and incest".
The Supreme Court failed to overturn the law itself on a technicality: those bringing the case were the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, not a woman who had become pregnant as a result of rape, or who suffered a foetal abnormality.
Because of this, a legislative approach will be needed. This is going to create extra headaches for Theresa May. There is a good chance that a majority of MPs will be minded to vote for an amendment to the 1967 Abortion act, which currently excludes Northern Ireland from provision.
But the DUP have made it clear that any changes to the law in Northern Ireland will see them walking away from the government, leading to its collapse and a likely election. Stella Creasy's amendment was debated earlier this week, with a lot of support from both sides of the house.
SNP MPs had also been criticised earlier this week for placing the sanctity of devolution over human rights, after one MP described any imposition of equality as an 'invidious' precedent.
Ironically, there is currently no devolution in the north. And despite bizarre parliamentary procedures which prevent its legalisation, abortion has majority support, even among DUP voters.
Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s Shadow Attorney General, responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the application by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, said:
“The Supreme Court’s decision was made on a technicality, but the Court has made clear that abortion laws in Northern Ireland violate fundamental human rights and has called for a radical reconsideration of the law.
“The Government cannot ignore this ruling and cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this injustice, which denies women in Northern Ireland their fundamental rights, upheld across the rest of the UK. The United Nations has decried this as a violation of international human rights standards.
“We want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly reconvened, but it has now been over 500 days and women in Northern Ireland must not have to suffer any longer.
“Labour is calling on the Government to immediately begin negotiations with political parties in Northern Ireland about bringing forward legislation to extend abortion rights without delay. We urge Theresa May to put the interests of women in Northern Ireland above party politics, and to work with us to make this law.”