Supreme court dismisses attempt to overturn Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws

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Judges ruled against an appeal brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), saying that it had no standing to bring its legal challenge to the current law.

The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in February 2016 against legalising abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape or incest.

Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights in Geneva, which made a submission in the case, said the Supreme Court judgment was "an indictment" of Northern Ireland's restrictive law.

"The commission had argued the law criminalizes vulnerable women and girls and subjects them to inhumane and degrading treatment in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights", NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley is also saying that Westminster can not decide to reform Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

May has said that the abortion issue should be decided by Northern Ireland's devolved government.

"Had it gone the wrong way, Northern Ireland would have faced abortion on demand", the Democratic Unionist Party's Jim Wells told Reuters.

Currently, women can only access an abortion in Northern Ireland if their life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to physical or mental health.

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Many Conservative lawmakers say that the law in Northern Ireland should be brought into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, but DUP leader Arlene Foster is committed to maintaining the province's strict abortion laws.

"Until such times as the legal framework caters for what are very basic human rights, our client, Sarah Ewart, has made it clear that she will continue to take the case to the highest level to ensure that no woman has to go through the traumatic experience in which she was so forced".

Laurence Wilkinson, legal counsel for ADF International, a group that advocates the right to live according to religious belief, said it welcomes the dismissal of the case, asserting that "at least 100,000 people in Northern Ireland are alive today" because of the decision not to liberalize laws in 1967, when Wales, England and Scotland eased restrictions.

The maximum penalty for breaking the law in Northern Ireland is life in prison.

"All eyes are now on the UK Government", Teggart added.

"Public opinion is clear on this issue with around 70% of the population supporting abortion law reform. A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

The refusal comes despite intense cross-party calls to liberalise Northern Ireland's abortion laws following the landslide pro-choice referendum victory in the Irish Republic last month.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has previously insisted that any decision on abortion in the region is a matter for Northern Ireland's locally elected politicians at Stormont.

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