U.K. Government Debates Changing Northern Ireland’s Abortion Laws

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

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

The UK's highest court said on Thursday that Northern Ireland's abortion laws are incompatible with human rights legislation.

The Supreme Court in the United Kingdom has rejected an attempt to overturn Northern Ireland's strict abortion limits - but a majority of the justices also say the current law is "deeply unsatisfactory" and violates human rights.

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

"We took this case to bring greater clarity to the law and we welcome the court's decision", Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the NIHRC, said.

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.

Women in Northern Ireland are legally able to seek an abortion only if their lives are in danger or they are at risk of serious long-term physical or mental harm.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had challenged the law in court.

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Rosa Curling, a solicitor with Leigh Day, representing a coalition of pro-choice organisations, said there were "no longer any excuses" to deny women in Northern Ireland the same rights granted to women elsewhere in the UK.

"This is hugely significant and makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue". May relies for her parliamentary majority, opposes changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland.

"All eyes are now on the UK Government", Teggart added.

Following the results of the Republic of Ireland's Eighth Amendment Referendum, renewed pressure has been cast on the Northern Ireland Assembly to reform and legislate for abortion there. But though some British lawmakers have floated the idea of changing the abortion law directly from London, Prime Minister Theresa May is unlikely to push for such a change.

Anyone who unlawfully carries out an abortion could be jailed for life.

Fellow Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt went further, saying MPs had sent a message to Northern Ireland's politicians that if they do not act on the issue, "we will".

"In the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, it becomes a human rights issue, not simply a matter of policy that's devolved to Northern Ireland". Amnesty is calling for the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which would decriminalise abortion and enable a Human Right compliant healthcare framework to be put in place.

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