Landmark challenge to abortion laws opens before UK Supreme Court

Les Allamby
Les Allamby

A landmark challenge to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws opened before the UK Supreme Court today and will run until Thursday.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) will argue that the current law in Northern Ireland violates human rights.

Commenting, Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said: “This case has the opportunity to bring about a real change to the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland.

“The Commission began its legal challenge in 2015 as we want women and girls in Northern Ireland to have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest, without getting a criminal record or facing going to prison.”

The Commission applied to have its case heard at the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal in Belfast dismissed its appeal in June.

Mr Allamby added: “This case is of great significance in the UK and internationally, just four months after our appeal the Supreme Court has granted an expedited hearing. An Independent Working Group of the United Nations will also provide evidence to the Court. This is extremely rare. Many others will also share their own experiences through the court hearings. We commend those who have come forward as we know it is not easy to tell such personal stories.”

The court today heard evidence from Amnesty International and Sarah Ewart, whose first pregnancy ended when she received a fatal foetal diagnosis and travelled to England for a termination.

Ms Ewart argues that Northern Ireland’s laws are incompatible with her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Belfast solicitor Darragh Mackin of KRW Law, who represents both Amnesty International and Ms Ewart, said: “This is a hugely important issue to both women and families across the jurisdiction.

“As our clients have rightly evidenced, there are hugely harrowing consequences for women in Northern Ireland who are caught in the vice of the present abortion law framework.”