NI: High Court rules in favour of NIHRC challenge to abortion law

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby

The High Court in Belfast has ruled that preventing access to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities (FFA) and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes is unlawful.

A successful judicial review was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) against the Department of Justice in relation to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.

In an “historic” ruling, the court held that Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights is breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of FFA and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes.

However, the court held that failure to allow abortions in cases of serious foetal abnormality was not contrary to the European Convention. The court also held that there is neither a general right to abortion nor the protection of the right to life under the common law.

Speaking after the ruling, Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said: “The Human Rights Commission welcomes today’s landmark ruling. In taking this case we sought to change the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so.

“We are pleased that today that the High Court has held that the current law is incompatible with human rights and has ruled in the Commission’s favour.

“Today’s result is historic, and will be welcomed by many of the vulnerable women and girls who have been faced with these situations. It was important for the Commission to take this challenge in its own name, in order to protect women and girls in Northern Ireland and we are delighted with the result.”

The Department of Justice and the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, named as a notice party in the case, have six weeks to launch an appeal to the ruling.

Otherwise, the NIHRC says it will fall to the Northern Ireland Assembly to amend Northern Ireland’s abortion laws to conform to the new ruling.

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