U.K. Court Dismisses Challenge to Northern Ireland’s Abortion Law

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption The law on abortion in Northern Ireland explained

Because by 4 to 3, the court found itself unable to issue a formal declaration of incompatiblity with the European Convention on Human Rights as the NI Human Rights Commission had brought its action on legal principle rather than basing it on the cases of particular women.

The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in February 2016 against legalising abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape or incest.

Current restrictions force women to either travel to the Great Britain to receive treatment (which over 1,000 women and girls do each year), risk prosecution for procuring illegal online abortion pills, or continue their pregnancies against their wishes and in violation of their rights.

Abortion laws are stricter in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill meanwhile described the debate as a "first step" on the road to abortion reform in Northern Ireland, and backed repeal of the relevant sections of the 1861 act.

"Despite the fact that there wasn't an identified "victim" in this case, the judges felt so strongly that the evidence showed that Northern Ireland's abortion law breaches women's rights, that they dispensed with procedure and set out their conclusions anyway".

But three of Northern Ireland's most senior judges overturned that decision in June past year, saying it was a question for the elected assembly, not the courts.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had challenged the law in court. [It] makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue.

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Northern Ireland minister Karen Bradley insisted that abortion was "a matter for the people of Northern Ireland".

She called for the United Kingdom and Irish governments to then come together under a peace process construct called the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to discuss how to change the laws on terminations in Northern Ireland.

The ruling on a technicality will come as a relief for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who previously said that the province should decide its own abortion policy.

The Northern Ireland assembly has not sat for 17 months.

An emergency debate on the issue was held in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

In England, Scotland and Wales, an abortion can be legally carried out up to a 24-week gestational limit or later if the mother's health is threatened or there is a substantial risk the baby will have serious disabilities.

She added, "That is why the government, like its predecessors, believes that the best forum to debate and resolve these and many other matters is a locally elected Northern Ireland assembly, so the government's priority remains to urgently re-establish strong, inclusive, devolved government at the earliest opportunity". "What we need is compassion and services in Northern Ireland".

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