Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
Worldwide | By Stella Potter

UK Supreme Court says it can not rule on Northern Ireland’s abortion law

UK Supreme Court says it can not rule on Northern Ireland’s abortion law

British-ruled Northern Ireland is left as the only part of Britain or Ireland with such a restrictive regime, after voters in the Irish republic backed the removal of a ban in a landslide vote last month that sparked calls for change in the North.

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. It said the court's dismissal was on a technicality and its judgment made clear that the status quo was untenable when it came to cases of fatal fetal abnormality and rape.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said that abortion is a devolved matter and should only be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is now suspended. Others dressed as characters from "The Handmaid's Tale", the dystopian novel and television show in which women are subjugated in a totalitarian state.

Northern Ireland minister Karen Bradley insisted that abortion was "a matter for the people of 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.

Adding to the complication, Northern Ireland has been unable to form a power-sharing government for over a year, meaning responsibility may fall on Westminster to unilaterally change national law. May needs the party's 10 lawmakers in parliament to keep her government in office.

"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". In 2016, lawmakers there, led by the DUP, voted to maintain the antiabortion policy.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill welcomed the Westminster debate, describing it as a "first step" on the road to abortion reform in Northern Ireland.

But the Department of Justice at Stormont and Northern Ireland's attorney general challenged the judgment and won the appeal.

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.

Earlier Theresa May met Conservative MPs pressing for changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws amid calls for an emergency debate on the issue.

She said May has an obligation to make sure the United Kingdom government is "now longer acting unlawfully by breaching the human rights of women across Northern Ireland".

A Northern Irish woman gave evidence to the Supreme Court about having to travel overseas for a termination after being told her baby could not survive.

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