Today the Belfast High Court has ruled that abortion law in Northern Ireland is in breach of human rights.
The current law stipulates that abortion is only permissible if a woman’s life is at risk, or, there is a serious risk to the woman’s physical or mental health.
Judge Mr Justice Mark Horner told the court
“the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their Convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the Article Eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal foetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions”.
“I welcome this ruling, and it is absolutely essential that abortion law here is changed immediately. It is staggering that Northern Ireland does not currently allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or serious foetal malformation.”
What does this mean for current abortion law?
The fact-checking website, FullFact has reported that today’s ruling does not mean the current law has changed.
“Judges in the United Kingdom have no power to overturn primary legislation that they regard as contrary to the human rights convention. Instead, they have two options under the Human Rights Act 1998.
Section 3 of the act requires judges to read legislation in a way that is compatible with convention rights “so far as it is possible to do so”. This is known as “reading down” legislation.
Section 4 says that if it’s not possible to read down legislation then the court may make a declaration of incompatibility. That doesn’t change the law—though it allows for fast-track reform if ministers agree.”
It’s likely a highly contentious debate will ensue as to whether the current legislation should be changed, and if so, by how much?
The Department of Justice will have six weeks to decide whether to appeal the decision.