High Court rules Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breach women’s human rights

30 November, 2015

The Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast. © Copyright Kenneth Allen for Geograph and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The High Court in Belfast has ruled today that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in impinging upon women’s personal autonomy, in the cases where a woman wants an abortion due to either a fatal foetal abnormality or because she is pregnant due to rape or incest. Abortion in Northern Ireland will now need to be legalised in these circumstances. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the decision as a positive step in the right direction.

The legal challenge was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) after the Government proposed to legalise abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality, but not in any other case. The NIHRC argued that this did not go far enough, and that the law must also permit abortion in the cases of rape, incest, or serious (but not fatal) foetal abnormality. The judge agreed with respect to rape and incest (up to the point where the foetus is viable), but not serious foetal abnormality, where he did not consider the evidence in front of him meant he could make a similar ruling. He also said that the European Convention does not mean abortion has to be legalised in general.

Whether or not the law needs to be amended or simply reinterpreted will now be decided at a later date.

BHA Director of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘Today’s ruling is a significant victory for pro-choice advocates in Northern Ireland and across the UK. It falls well short of extending to women a right to choose in all cases where they have such a right in England, Scotland and Wales – there is clearly a long way still to go. But after decades of deadlock it is nonetheless a very positive start that will improve the lives of hundreds of women.’


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Director of Public Affairs and Policy at pavan@humanists.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the summary of the Court’s judgment: https://www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/Judicial%20Decisions/SummaryJudgments/Documents/Court%20declares%20abortion%20law%20in%20Northern%20Ireland%20breaches%20European%20Convention%20on%20Human%20Rights%20by%20faili/j_j_Summary%20of%20judgment%20-%20In%20re%20NIHRC%20%28Termination%20of%20Pregnancy%29%2030.11.15.htm

Read more about the BHA’s position on sexual health and reproductive rights: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethically and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion of belief.