What You Need To Know About The Abortion Row In Northern Ireland

Photo: Charles McQuillan/getty images.
Since the landslide vote to legalise abortion in the Republic of Ireland on 25th May, the spotlight has shifted north of the Irish border.
This morning, the supreme court found the country's strict stance on abortion to be incompatible with human rights in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime. Despite acknowledging this damning fact, however, it did not formally declare incompatibility, which would require a change in law.
It's an unusual set of circumstances – on the one hand, the supreme court dismissed the appeal brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) to overturn the country's abortion law on a technicality, saying the case should have instead been brought by a woman carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality or pregnant as a result of sexual crime.
But on the other hand, most of the judges said the country's abortion laws are incompatible with women's human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, the BBC reported. This means the UK government is failing to meet its commitments by not providing access to abortion in Northern Ireland. In case you're confused, here's some more important background information.

What is Northern Ireland's position on abortion law?

Abortion is prohibited in the vast majority of cases in Northern Ireland. It's only legal if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. This means abortion is illegal in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities.
The 1967 Abortion Act, which made abortion legal in the rest of the UK, does not extend to Northern Ireland. Just 13 abortions were carried out in the country's hospitals in 2016/7 and women have been prosecuted for procuring and taking abortion pills to end their pregnancies.

What are campaigners lobbying for?

Women's rights groups such as Alliance for Choice and the Abortion Rights Campaign have been campaigning on the issue for years and have stepped their campaigns up a gear following the Irish abortion referendum in May.

What's the UK government's role in all this?

Prime Minister Theresa May is reluctant to get involved and seems unwilling to force the country to change its abortion rules. She recently told a private meeting of fellow Conservative MPs that the political climate made change impossible and that the Northern Irish government should deal with the issue itself.

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