U.K. Supreme Court to Rule on Northern Ireland Abortion Rights

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Supreme Court will rule next week on whether Northern Ireland’s abortion law is incompatible with human rights, as pressure builds on Prime Minister Theresa May to bring the province’s rules into line with the rest of the nation.

On May 25, the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly -- by 66 percent to 34 percent -- to repeal the country’s abortion ban. This has focused attention on Northern Ireland, which has stricter laws than mainland U.K. stemming from the dominance of political parties with strong religious roots.

May faces a political headache as her minority government relies on the Democratic Unionist Party for votes to see through its legislation in Parliament. The DUP has campaigned against extending abortion rights, while leader Arlene Foster has insisted the matter is for Northern Irish legislators to examine.

The problem is that Northern Ireland has been without a government since January 2017, after a power-sharing deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein collapsed. May’s office said Tuesday that the matter is devolved to Northern Ireland and her government is focusing on re-establishing the executive there.

Even so, May has faced calls from lawmakers within her own party and others to act in Northern Ireland. The timing could not be worse for the premier, as her government is set to bring back its central Brexit legislation in the middle of June and she relies on Foster’s ten lawmakers.


On Thursday, pro-choice campaigners took illegal abortion pills outside Northern Ireland’s main court, while there were counter-demonstrations by anti-abortion activists in Belfast city center, the Press Association said.

Unlike the rest of the U.K., abortion in Northern Ireland is only permitted if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Fatal fetal abnormalities, rape and incest are not circumstances in which abortions can be performed legally. It is on this matter that the Supreme Court will pass judgment on June 7.

In England, Scotland and Wales an abortion can be legally carried out up to a 24-week gestational limit. Where the mother’s health is threatened or if there is a substantial risk the baby will have serious disabilities, terminations can be carried out later.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.