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UK Supreme Court dismisses attempt to overturn Northern Ireland abortion laws

Pro-life demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in London (Getty Images)

The UK Supreme Court has dismissed an attempt to overturn Northern Ireland’s strong abortion laws, but did conclude that they are incompatible with human rights legislation.

Judges ruled by a majority of four to three that the court had no jurisdiction to consider the legal challenge – brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission – since there was no actual or potential victim of an unlawful act.

However, a majority did say that the province’s abortion laws were incompatible with the right to respect for privacy and family life as defined by the European convention on human rights.

Four judges said the prohibition on abortion in cases of rape and incest was incompatible, while five said banning abortion in case of foetal abnormality was also incompatible.

While the judges’ opinions on Northern Irish abortion law are not binding – since they have technically dismissed the case – they will likely increase political pressure to liberalise the province’s laws.

Marion Woods, spokesperson for Life NI, said: “We welcome the ruling that found against the NIHRC and we would like to note the significant amount of taxpayers’ money that has been wasted by the NIHRC in taking a case that they had no standing to take.

“How much better could this money have been used over numerous years to help and enable women and families facing the devastating news that their unborn baby has been diagnosed with a life-limiting condition or a woman facing the trauma of sexual crime and resulting pregnancy?”

Northern Irish campaign group Both Lives Matter also praised the decision, but added that it is “not a moment to celebrate, but rather to pause and be thankful for the lives this judgment will save.”