U.K. Court Dismisses Challenge to Northern Ireland’s Abortion Law

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption The law on abortion in Northern Ireland explained

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption The law on abortion in Northern Ireland explained

But it says the majority of Justices think the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission did not have powers to bring the abortion case to court.

The appeal judges said the law in Northern Ireland should be left to the Stormont Assembly and not judges, saying the complex moral and religious questions behind the issue should be determined by a legislature rather than a court.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had challenged the law in court.

"While the case's dismissal means the government is not obliged to change the law, the seven judges have given a strong nod that reform is needed", Marie-Louise Connolly writes.

"This must be the final nail in the coffin for Northern Ireland's abortion ban".

The ruling on a technicality will come as a relief for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who previously said that the province should decide its own abortion policy.

But the court's opinion, while laid out at length, is not binding because the case has been dismissed on technical grounds. "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

The Supreme Court judges said it would have required the case to have been brought by a woman who was pregnant as a result of sexual crime or who was carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality.

Sarah Ewart, a woman who was forced to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion after being told her baby would not survive, intervened alongside Amnesty in the case.

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".

It comes a day after MPs at Westminster debated calls for change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

But that decision was overturned in June past year by three of Northern Ireland's most senior judges.

The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in February 2016 against legalising abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape or incest. Amnesty is calling for the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which would decriminalise abortion and enable a Human Right compliant healthcare framework to be put in place.

Theresa May has since faced mounting pressure from MPs and the public to amend the law in Northern Ireland - where abortion is still illegal. Amnesty believes that the forthcoming Domestic Violence Bill is the vehicle to achieve this change.

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