Court of Appeal in Belfast passes buck on women’s rights

29 June, 2017

The Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws are not incompatible with human rights law

The court of appeal in Belfast has today ruled that reform of abortion law in Northern Ireland should be left to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and not decided by the courts.

In 2015 the High Court ruled that Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws violate the rights of women to a private life under European human rights law. The ruling involved women and girls who were denied abortions in Northern Ireland either in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or despite their pregnancies being the result of sexual crimes.

However, the ruling was appealed by the Department of Justice and Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, and that appeal has now been upheld. It will now be up to Stormont to decide on whether or not to overturn the ban on abortion in cases of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormality. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which originally brought the case, is now entitled to appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court.

Responding to the ruling, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Many today will feel that the court has put politics before human rights, and betrayed women throughout Northern Ireland.

‘This was not even a case that would have seen abortion laws in Northern Ireland fully aligned with those in the rest of the UK. It was a case brought simply to uphold the right of women to terminate their pregnancies if they have been raped or if the foetus is found to have a fatal abnormality. The court’s decision not to defend this right is inhumane, especially knowing – as it does – that the Northern Ireland Assembly is very unlikely to do so. This is deeply disappointing for everyone involved in the pro-choice movement, and we must continue to campaign for the rights of women in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK until they are fully respected.’

The court of appeal’s ruling comes on the same day that MPs in the House of Commons are due to vote on an amendment to the Queen’s Speech that would allow women from Northern Ireland to access abortions free of charge on the NHS in England. The vote follows a Supreme Court ruling earlier this month which stated that the matter of charging Northern Irish women to access abortion services on NHS England was a political decision. 


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Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘High Court rules Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breach women’s human rights’:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion:

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