A high court judge in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where the Abortion Act 1967 is not the rule of law, has ruled that the "almost outright ban on abortion breaches the human rights of women and girls, including rape victims."
Currently, the only applicable abortion law in Northern Ireland is the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861, "which contains a life sentence for anyone convicted of carrying out a termination even in cases of rape or incest." Abortions are only permitted "if the life of a mother is directly under threat or in cases in which there would be lasting long-term negative effects on her health by continuing with the pregnancy," which has obliged many abortion-seeking people to travel to England, or seek services from international providers such as Women on Waves, and obliged many more people to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.
But that may be about to change.
The historic judgment, delivered in Belfast on Monday, could lead to women and girls who are the victims of rape and incest as well those suffering from fatal foetal abnormalities having terminations in Northern Irish hospitals.Naturally, cue the usual fearmongering about "opening the floodgates for abortion on demand" and the usual caterwauling about "activist judges," but this is indeed a critical human rights issue and it's well past time for Northern Ireland to give pregnant people access to this basic healthcare procedure.
...In his ground-breaking ruling and referring to cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, Mr Justice Horner told the high court in Belfast: "In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the article eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal foetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions."
Referring to political inaction at Stormont over the abortion question, Horner also suggested that a referendum might have to be held to enact his conclusions on reforming local abortion law.
Welcoming the judgment, Les Allamby, the head of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), said: "In taking this case we sought to change the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so.NB: Not only female people need access to abortion, even though these laws were designed with the explicit intent to control women's bodies and reproduction.
"We are please that today that the high court has held that the current law is incompatible with human rights and has ruled in the commission's favour.
"Today's result is historic, and will be welcomed by many of the vulnerable women and girls who have been faced with these situations. It was important for the commission to take this challenge in its own name, in order to protect women and girls in Northern Ireland and we are delighted with the result."
...Amnesty International said it was shameful that laws on abortion "date back to the 19th century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe".
Grainne Teggart, of Amnesty's My Body, My Rights campaign, said: "Today's court decision is a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland executive's failure to prioritise women's healthcare. It's shameful that the courts have had to step in because politicians have repeatedly failed Northern Ireland's women."
This issue is not settled. There will be a fight. Especially regarding expanding access to anyone and everyone who wants an abortion for any reason. I take up space in solidarity with abortion rights activists in Northern Ireland who will continue to agitate for bodily autonomy, agency, and access to a full spectrum of healthcare.