Victory for Women in Northern Ireland

Court rules restrictive abortion law violates women’s rights


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Today, in a victory for women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland, the High Court of Northern Ireland ruled that the jurisdiction’s highly restrictive abortion law violates women’s human rights.

In the judgment handed down, the High Court found in favor of Sarah Ewart who claimed that her right to privacy was violated in 2013 when she was prohibited from accessing abortion care in Northern Ireland following a diagnosis of fatal fetal impairment.  The Center for Reproductive Rights, with support from Debevoise & Plimpton, intervened as a third party to support Ms. Ewart’s case. In the Center’s amicus brief, the Center provided the High Court with information on relevant international jurisprudence  to its deliberations, in particular the groundbreaking decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee in Mellet v. Ireland and Whelan v. Ireland

This win comes on the heels of the adoption of legislative provisions by the UK Parliament in July calling for the reform of Northern Ireland’s abortion law.  In conjunction with today’s victory, these developments indicate that, in line with the global trend toward liberalization, women and girls in Northern Ireland will be able to access abortion care in their place of residence.

Northern Ireland currently has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world and women face the threat of imprisonment for terminating a pregnancy in almost all circumstances. “Highly restrictive laws harm women’s health and violate their human rights. Law reform to decriminalize and legalize abortion in Northern Ireland is imperative. Women and girls must be allowed by law to access abortion care legally at home without having to travel to another jurisdiction,” explained Leah Hoctor, the Center’s Regional Director for Europe. Today’s judgement is a critical step in ensuring that Northern Irish women are allowed to do just that.