UK Supreme Court criticizes Northern Ireland abortion laws

Theresa May has been urged to support liberalisation of Northern Ireland's laws

May's government could face more pressure to act if the U.K. Supreme Court rules this week that Northern Ireland's abortion restrictions violate human rights statutes.

It was ruled that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission did not have the power to bring a case, due to the law's rights not being infringed with.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission says the law should be changed in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. The legislation subjects women to "inhuman and degrading" treatment and is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, the NIHRC argued.

Les Allamby, chief commissioner, said: "If the court rules that there is a violation of human rights, then that becomes a very serious issue for the United Kingdom government". [It] makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue.

This surely means the UK Government must now act to change the law.

Rebecca Schiller, Chief Executive of Birthrights, the UK's only organisation human rights during pregnancy and childbirth said: "These last weeks have made it clear that we can no longer ignore the continued suffering and violation of Northern Irish women's human rights". But though some British lawmakers have floated the idea of changing the abortion law directly from London, Prime Minister Theresa May is unlikely to push for such a change.

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Jeremy Corbyn has hit out at the DUP after it insisted Westminster should not meddle with Northern Ireland's strict abortion regime.

"All eyes are now on those respective bodies to ensure that immediate action is taken to bring this vacuum of human rights protection to an immediate end". "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

She added: "I for one want to be a legislator that brings about that change, but because of the DUP's denial of rights, and the fact we don't have an institution, because of the DUP's denial of rights what we need to see is the inter-governmental conference to meet and for them to deal with the rights-based issues, including the issue of women's healthcare".

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill welcomed the Westminster debate, describing it as a "first step" on the road to abortion reform in Northern Ireland.

At the end of May, the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to overturn an abortion ban - prompting debate around the issue in Northern Ireland.

Responding to the decision, Dawn McAvoy of Both Lives Matter, said: "It is not a moment to celebrate, but rather to pause and be thankful for the lives this judgment will save".

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