Human-rights campaigners lost their case over the legality of Northern Ireland’s abortion law on a technicality.
Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) told the court that the current law criminalizes “exceptionally vulnerable” women and girls and subjects them to “inhuman and degrading” treatment. But the UK’s Supreme Court ruled it had no jurisdiction to consider the legal challenge because the case wasn’t brought forward from a victim who was pregnant as a result of rape or who was carrying a fetus with a fatal abnormality.
Northern Ireland, a constituent unit of the UK where citizens variously consider themselves British, Northern Irish, and/or Irish— bans abortion even in cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal impairment. As such, tens of thousands of women seeking abortions have to travel to Britain and elsewhere or illegally order pills online.
While the judges couldn’t rule on the case, they did state that Northern Ireland’s abortion law was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrines the right to respect for private and family life.
Following the Republic of Ireland’s historic referendum that legalized abortion, there’s been mounting pressure to ease abortion restrictions in the north. However, the ruling suggests that any changes to Northern Ireland’s law will now be up to the politicians, either in Belfast or Westminster. But that doesn’t look likely either.
Northern Ireland has not had a working devolved government in almost 18 months. Worst still, one of the leading parties in Northern Ireland, which is currently in a coalition government with British prime minister Theresa May, takes a hardline view of abortion rights. While there’s been increased pressure on May to act, she’s thus far refused, stating the political climates makes it impossible to do so.