Northern Ireland abortion law 'incompatible with human rights', court rules

The ban against abortions in Northern Ireland is "incompatible with human rights," the Belfast high court ruled today in a landmark case.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not applyReuters

Termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland is only allowed in cases where a woman's life is at risk or there is serious risk to her mental or physical health. Anyone who breaches these regulations has, until now, faced a possibility of a jail sentence for life.

However the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) brought the case to legalise abortion in cases of serious foetal malformation, rape or incest.

The ruling, delivered on Monday by Mr Justice Horner, said cases where women who were victims of sexual crime or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality were entitled to exemptions in the law.

Northern Ireland's Department of Justice had carried out a consultation on changing the law in cases of fatal foetal abnormality but the NIHRC said the consultation paper did not go far enough. In response they said they brought legal proceedings as a last resort.

Although the judicial review hearing was held in June, the verdict was only announced today and will be welcome to pro-abortion campaigners.

However CARE in Northern Ireland spokesman called it a "disappointing decision."

"Decisions in relation to abortion law in Northern Ireland should be left in the hands of Assembly members because they are best placed to respect the wishes of people of Northern Ireland," said Tim Houston.

"Whilst recognising the traumas associated with fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies that result from difficult or even horrific circumstances, we do not believe abortion is the best option for the mother or the unborn child.

"At CARE we wholeheartedly support and campaign for improved pastoral and palliative care for all who have been affected by traumatic experiences leading to pregnancy or those affected by fatal foetal abnormality.

"This is what we will continue to focus on because the preservation and condition of life for both the mother and the baby is what matters most in this situation."

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply. Until this judgement, carrying out abortions in Northern Ireland hospitals could lead to medical staff being jailed for life under 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.