UK Supreme Court Says Northern Ireland's Abortion Ban Is Incompatible with Human Rights, but Won't Repeal

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Weeks after Ireland voted to repeal its draconian abortion ban, Northern Ireland is one small step closer to doing the same.

Northern Ireland currently bans abortion except in cases where the mother’s life or mental health are at risk. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), which challenged the law, received mixed news from the judges at UK Supreme Court on Thursday: While the court rejected the case, the judges simultaneously issued a strong-worded condemnation of the law, calling the restrictions “incompatible” with human rights.

CNN reports that Lord Jonathan Hugh Mance, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, said that “the present law clearly needs radical reconsideration.”


The Court declined to hear the case due to a technicality, saying it had “no jurisdiction” to issue a ruling because, as the Guardian reported, the case did not involve an “actual or potential” victim. (Oh?)

When delivering the decision, Mance added, however:

“I would have concluded, without real hesitation at the end of the day, that the current Northern Ireland law is incompatible with article 8 of the [European human rights] convention insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest but not insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of serious foetal abnormality.”


Despite not receiving a firm ruling, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissions regarded the opinion as promising. “The judges made absolutely clear that if a woman [who had suffered in such a case] was brought forward they would find that our laws are incompatible with human rights,” said NIHRC head Les Allamby.

As reported by the Guardian, Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley had this to say in response to the announcement: “No formal declaration has been made by the court and the appeal has been dismissed. But the analysis and comments from the court on the issue of incompatibility will be clearly heard by this House and politicians in Northern Ireland.”


Reform lies in the hands of politicians in either Belfast or Westminster, the BBC reports, who are likely to face increased pressure in light of the Court’s opinion.

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Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.

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