Supreme Court to rule on Northern Irish abortion issue

The ruling comes just after the Irish referendum on the subject

The ruling comes just after the Irish referendum on the subject

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The UK's highest court is set to rule on a challenge over the legality of Northern Ireland's strict abortion law.

Seven Supreme Court justices in London will announce their decision on Thursday, at a time of intense political debate on the issue.

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

During proceedings in October, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) told the court the current law criminalises "exceptionally vulnerable" women and girls and subjects them to "inhuman and degrading" treatment.

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".

The Supreme Court has been asked to rule that a prohibition on abortions where a pregnancy arises from rape or incest, or "involves a serious foetal abnormality", is unlawful.

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

Contesting the appeal, the Stormont Executive's senior legal adviser, Attorney General John Larkin QC, said Northern Ireland's criminal law on abortion is a matter for the "democratic judgment" of the legislature.

The legislature, he said, "has struck the proportionate balance required for the protection of the rights of women and unborn children".

Unlike other parts of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland.

Abortion is illegal except where a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious danger to her mental or physical health.

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

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