The BBC reports that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) is seeking judicial review of the current abortion law in Northern Ireland. The application will be heard in the Queen’s Bench Division at 10.30 this morning, 15 June.
Abortion in Northern Ireland is governed by ss 58 and 59 Offences Against the Person Act 1861, subject to s 25 Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 which extended to Northern Ireland the provisions of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929: in principle, it remains illegal. The NIHRC wants abortion to be legalised in cases of rape, incest or “serious malformation” of a foetus: at present, it is only permitted to save a woman’s life or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health. Last year, Justice Minister David Ford recommended a limited change in the law; however, First Minister Peter Robinson said that he preferred to deal with the issue by publishing draft guidelines on the circumstances in which abortion would be permitted.
Earlier this month, during consideration of the Justice Bill on 2 June the Northern Ireland Assembly rejected an amendment proposed by the DUP chair of the Justice Committee, Alastair Ross, on behalf of the Committee, that would have made the law even more restrictive. A Petition of Concern was submitted to block the proposal and it was defeated following a cross-community vote in which 39 voted in favour and 41 against.