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UK Supreme Court rules Northern Ireland abortion reformers must bring personal cases

Protesters adopt costumes used by child-bearers of "The Handmaid's Tale"
Protesters adopt costumes used by child-bearers of "The Handmaid's Tale"
By Robert HackwillVincent McAviney
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Technicality derails attempt to ease access to abortion in Northern Ireland, but court indicates it is likely to give a favourable hearing to any individual plaintiff.


Human rights campaigners arrived at the UK’s Supreme Court this morning after a 3 year legal battle to change Northern Ireland’s ban on abortion.

The Court was deciding specifically whether this should be abolished in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.

Sarah Ewart is one of the parties in the case. In 2013 she had to travel to England for a termination after doctors said her baby wouldn’t survive outside the womb.

“I'm very, very nervous but I’m hoping that the supreme court have listened to our voices and realised that the change is needed for women in Northern Ireland,” said Ewart.

But the judgement didn’t go entirely their way.

Whilst the court did say that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights law the campaigners got caught on a technicality. The judges said if it was an individual who had brought this case who had been a victim of this law they would have been likely to side with them.

Speaking after the decision Grainne Teggart from Amnesty International believes the judgment has nonetheless strengthened the case for changing the law

“This is a momentous win for women’s rights. What now will happen is that we have issued proceedings in today in Belfast in Sarah’s name to have that formal declaration made and our work will continue at Westminster to ensure that long overdue legislative change happens,” she said.

Not everyone was happy with the court’s decision, with questions being raised about devolution.

“We’re very pleased the appeal has been dismissed and we believe that the case should never have been brought in the beginning. The rightful place for the decision to be made on abortion law is by the elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly,” said Liam Gibson from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Following the referendum vote in the republic and protests in Northern Ireland, all eyes are now on the House of Commons which debated the law earlier in the week. A group of cross-party MPs are now pushing for an amendment abolishing the ban to be added to a forthcoming bill. But Theresa May’s government is dependent on Northern Ireland’s biggest party the DUP for her majority, they’ll be putting pressure on her to stop the attempt.

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