United Kingdom court criticizes Northern Ireland abortion law but rejects bid for reform

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

It had asked the court to rule on whether it was unlawful to prohibit abortions that arise from sexual crimes or cases involving "a serious fetal abnormality".

"The view from the Supreme Court is clear - politicians can no longer duck our responsibilities to properly analyse and legislate on hard issues".

The ruling by the panel of judges, headed by the court's president Lady Hale, follows a hearing past year.

However, a majority of justices also found that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which had initiated legal proceedings to try and liberalise the law, did not have the powers to bring the case.

During the three-day appeal hearing, a QC representing the commission argued that human rights were being breached, with those affected being forced to go through "physical and mental torture". It is prohibited in all other circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest or if the fetus is diagnosed with a fatal abnormality-a stricter test than in Catholic, conservative Poland.

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The NIHRC claims the law's effect on women is incompatible with rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Responding for the Government, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said Westminster should not seek to impose abortion.

The legislature, he said, "has struck the proportionate balance required for the protection of the rights of women and unborn children". Sinn Fein and the SDLP, the two major parties representing Northern Ireland's Irish Catholics, and the cross-community Alliance Party, back overturning the ban.

As it now stands, abortion is only legal in Northern Ireland if the life of the woman is endangered.

Sarah Ewart, a woman who was forced to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion after being told her baby would not survive, intervened alongside Amnesty in the case.

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"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.

Research by Both Lives Matter has shown that an estimated 100,000 people are alive today because of Northern Ireland's stance.

'The need for amendment is evident... the present legislative position in Northern Ireland is untenable and intrinsically disproportionate in excluding from any possibility of abortion pregnancies involving fatal foetal abnormality or due to rape or incest... the present law clearly needs radical reconsideration.

An emergency debate on the issue was held in the House of Commons on Tuesday. In 2017, 919 women from Northern Ireland sought an abortion in England and Wales, according to U.K. Department of Health statistics.

A majority of the court decided that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which initiated the case, did not have the standing to bring the challenge to the abortion law.

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