Abortion law in Northern Ireland: the Government’s initial response

On 7 June, in an Urgent Question in the Commons immediately following the ruling of the Supreme Court in Human Rights Commission for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland: Abortion) [2018] UKSC 27, Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op) asked the Northern Ireland Secretary “whether sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 are incompatible with articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European convention on human rights”. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, replied as follows:

“I thank the hon. Member for Walthamstow for this question and I once again pay tribute to her and to all the other hon. Members who contributed to the debate on these issues in the House on Tuesday. I recognise the strength of feeling and the personal stories that lie behind this issue, many of which we heard on Tuesday. That is the case regardless of where people’s views lie. As I have said in the House before, abortion is an extremely sensitive issue and there are many strongly held views across all sides of the debate on reform right across the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Members will be aware that the Supreme Court issued its judgment in this case this morning. The Government are carefully considering the full judgment and its implications. No formal declaration has been made by the Court, and the appeal has been dismissed. The analysis and comments of the Court on the issue of incompatibility will be clearly heard by this House and by politicians in Northern Ireland. While the Court made no formal declaration, a majority of judges stated their view that the laws on abortion in Northern Ireland are incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights—the right to respect for private and family life—in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.

This is clearly a complex area of law and an extremely sensitive subject matter which raises a number of different issues to consider. I am sure that the House will understand, given that the judgment is more than 140 pages in length, that further consideration of it is needed. I am continuing to engage with the parties in Northern Ireland, where these issues are understandably being raised and discussed. It is therefore important for all of us, including the people of Northern Ireland, to consider this judgment and to approach ongoing debate on this issue with due care and sensitivity. My urgent priority is to continue to engage with the parties in Northern Ireland and to re-establish devolved government in Northern Ireland so that decisions can be taken there.”

1 thought on “Abortion law in Northern Ireland: the Government’s initial response

  1. Since the Abortion Act 1967 specifies neither incest nor rape as grounds for abortion, presumably the abortion laws in Great Britain are no more Article 8-compliant in cases of rape and incest than those in Northern Ireland.

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