North Ireland abortion law illegal: U.K. court

Britain’s Supreme Court said on Thursday it would have declared Northern Ireland’s abortion laws incompatible with human rights legislation if not for a procedural technicality, in what pro-choice campaigners hailed as a victory.

A majority of justices said they would have ruled the current law, which outlaws abortion even in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal anomaly, incompatible with the European Convention on Human rights (ECHR).

A man walks past a mural showing Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist who had sought and been denied an abortion before she died after a miscarriage in a Galway hospital, with the word YES over it, in Dublin, Ireland. | Photo Credit: AP

But a majority also ruled that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), which brought the appeal, did not have the power to “institute abstract proceedings of this nature”.

“It follows that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in these proceedings to give relief in respect of the challenge Northern Ireland abortion law,” the ruling added.

Despite not issuing an official ruling, the Supreme Court had delivered a victory for reformist campaigners, said the NIHRC.

“The highest court in the U.K. has agreed with the Commission that Northern Ireland’s laws on termination of pregnancy are incompatible with human rights,” said Chief Commissioner Les Allamby. “We took this case to bring greater clarity to the law and we welcome the court’s decision.”

Complications for May

The court’s findings are likely to raise political pressure on London and Belfast to alter legislation, potentially setting Prime Minister Theresa May on a collision course with the anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and further complicating her Brexit plans.

The DUP is the biggest party in Northern Ireland and also props up May’s minority government, giving her the votes she needs to get Brexit legislation through the House of Commons.

The devolved government in the British province is responsible for deciding abortion laws, but Westminster can step in if it is a human rights issue.

Adding to the complication, Northern Ireland has been unable to form a power-sharing government for over a year. Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley, said the government was “carefully considering the judgment and its implications.” “The analysis and comments from the court on the issue of incompatibility will be clearly heard by this House and politicians in Northern Ireland.”

Jonathan Mance was one of five of the seven judges who would have ruled that the current laws contravene European legislation. “I would have concluded without real hesitation … that the current state of Northern Ireland is incompatible with Article 8 of the Convention,” he wrote, adding that “the present law clearly needs radical reconsideration”.

The judges decided, however, that they could not officially issue a ruling as the NIHRC could only bring cases through specific victims, not on general principles.

Source: AFP

Also read: The battle of Gallipoli: recollecting myths & facts

Adriana Murolo

The Kootneeti Team - European Watch

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