UK Supreme Court dismisses challenge to Northern Ireland's abortion laws

UK Supreme Court Dismisses Challenge to Northern Ireland Abortion Case On A Technicality

The UK Supreme Court has found that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws violate human rights. However, it’s also refused to overturn them. We explain why.

In a surprise ruling, the UK Supreme Court has decided not to overturn Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. The case was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and centered around whether the country’s controversial abortion laws breached human rights.

What’s The Background Here?

women's rights and abortion - a placard from a pro choice protect

Image Credit: Larissa Puro / Flickr

Northern Ireland is not party to the 1967 Abortion Act, which decriminalised abortion in some circumstances in the rest of the UK.

At the moment, abortion is only legal if a woman’s life is in danger or if she faces a serious risk to her physical or mental health. The case brought by the NIHRC argued that, by banning abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality, Northern Ireland violates human rights legislation.

In 2015, the High Court in Belfast had ruled that the abortion laws violated Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention, which protects the right to family and private life. However, the case was overturned in 2017 by the Court of Appeal.

What Does This Ruling Mean for Abortion Rights?

Court Sitting Lady Hale Belfast

Lady Hale, the President of the Supreme Court, during a case. Image Credit: Supreme Court

The UK Supreme Court has decided that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws did not violate Article 3, the right not to be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment. However, the court found that the abortion laws did breach Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention.

Despite the Article 8 violation, the decision doesn’t amount to a victory for the NIHRC. The court dismissed their appeal based on a legal technicality.

In order for the case to be valid, it should have been brought by a woman who was pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or was carrying a foetus with a fatal abnornmality.

The judges found that the NIHRC did not have “standing,” meaning that they did not have a strong enough connection to the law being challenged. They argued that, in order for the case to be valid, it should have been brought by a woman who was pregnant as a result of rape or incest or who was carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality.

So, although the Supreme Court found that Northern Irish abortion laws are not compatible with human rights, the case has been dismissed. However, the judges’ decision that the abortion laws violate human rights will likely encourage further debate in Northern Ireland.

Feature Image: Emma Campbell / Alliance For Choice

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About the Author

Dylan Brethour

Associate Editor
Dylan is a freelance journalist and editor living in London. She has an MA in Transnational Studies from University College London. Dylan is interested in how the media can work to support human rights. View all posts by Dylan Brethour.
UK Supreme Court Dismisses Challenge to Northern Ireland Abortion Case On A Technicality
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