Politicians and campaigners continue fight for legal abortion in Northern Ireland following success at Supreme Court

8 June, 2018

Following yesterday’s judgment by the Supreme Court, politicians in both the House of Commons and the Lords called on the UK Government to change the law to allow safe and legal access to abortion in Northern Ireland. And pro-choice campaigner Sarah Ewart, who had a fatal foetal abnormality, lodged a fresh legal challenge in the High Court. Humanists UK and Northern Ireland Humanists, who were the First Intervener in the previous case and briefed MPs and peers on the judgment, has pledged to build on this success and continue to campaign in Westminster and Northern Ireland for change.

In the House of Commons, Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy asked the UK Government if it agreed with the Supreme Court’s judgment that Northern Ireland’s abortion law was incompatible with human rights in cases where a woman is pregnant as a result of rape, incest, or where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

During the debate the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Crispin Blunt MP commented, ‘The fact is that it has now been more than a year since Stormont has been in a position to make such devolved decisions. This issue is part of a basket of others, including the private Member’s Bill on same-sex marriage promoted by the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), and there is perhaps a judgment to come about humanist marriage, which would then need some consideration. How long is it reasonable for us in this Parliament to wait, without Stormont sitting, before we begin properly to exercise our responsibilities to the citizens of Northern Ireland?’

Similarly, APPHG member Lord Cashman asked in the House of Lords, ‘Human rights and our international obligations under human rights conventions are not a devolved issue.. it is imperative that the Government set out a timetable to re-establish devolved government. In the absence of meeting such a timetable, will the Government stop kicking the can of the human rights of women and others in Northern Ireland down the line in the hope that someone else will solve a problem that seems intractable?

While the Supreme Court found that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breach human rights, it did not issue a formal declaration of incompatibility because it decided that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, who had brought the case to court, did not have standing. As a consequence, Sarah Ewart, who travelled to England for an abortion in 2013 after she was told that her foetus would not be able to survive birth, has now lodged a legal challenge at the High Court in Belfast.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented, ‘The judgment of the Supreme Court has sent a very clear message to the UK Government – the abortion restrictions in Northern Ireland are a violation of human rights. It cannot wait for the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconvene and potentially act – it must now act itself. We will continue to campaign politically and legally until the necessary change in law is achieved, and welcome Sarah Ewart’s fresh legal challenge.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanists.uk or 020 3675 0959, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on boyd.sleator@nihumanists.org or on 02890 029946.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.