Court Rules Northern Irish Abortion Law Violates Women's Human Rights

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(Geneva)—The Center for Reproductive Rights welcomes today’s judgement from the Northern Irish High Court which ruled that Northern Ireland’s highly restrictive abortion law contravenes women’s human rights. The Center intervened as a third party in Ms. Ewarts case and it was represented by Lord Goldsmith QC of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

Highly restrictive abortion laws like those in place in Northern Ireland harm women’s health and violate their human rights. Law reform to decriminalize and legalize abortion in Northern Ireland is imperative. Women and girls in Northern Ireland must be allowed by law to access abortion care legally at home without having to travel to another jurisdiction,” said Leah Hoctor, Regional Director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In its judgement the Court ruled in favor of Sarah Ewart who claimed that her right to private life, as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was violated in 2013 when she was prohibited from accessing abortion care in Northern Ireland following a diagnosis of fatal fetal impairment during her pregnancy.

Today’s judgement follows the adoption of legislative provisions by the UK parliament on 9 July calling for the reform of the Northern Irish abortion law. Following the adoption of those legislative amendments, a moratorium on the criminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland is slated to enter into force on 21 October 2019 and legislative reform to repeal laws criminalizing abortion in Northern Ireland is foreseen for early 2020.

Northern Ireland's abortion law is one of the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is prohibited in almost all circumstances and is a serious criminal offence. While women in England, Scotland, and Wales can access abortion on broad socio-economic grounds, those in Northern Ireland face the threat of imprisonment for seeking a termination—even in instances of rape or fatal fetal impairment. Every year hundreds of women from Northern Ireland travel to other jurisdictions to access legal abortion care.