Human rights campaigners lose Northern Ireland abortion appeal

Theresa May has been urged to support liberalisation of Northern Ireland's laws

The U.K. Supreme Court ruled Thursday it had no right to decide whether Northern Ireland's strict policy limiting abortions breached European human-rights laws, heading off a potential fallout between U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party and her alliance partners.

"The highest court in the land has ruled that the United Kingdom is in breach of its own human rights obligations to women in Northern Ireland who are governed by this draconian law".

Abortion is illegal except where a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious danger to her mental or physical health.

The U.K.'s high court, however, says the challenge lacked standing because it was not brought by an actual victim of the law. One group of activists drove around Northern Ireland distributing abortion pills.

Abortion is unlawful in all but the most extreme cases. As such, the court does not have jurisdiction to make a declaration of incompatibility in this case.

"This is hugely significant and makes clear there is nowhere left for the government to hide on this issue".

Because of Northern Ireland legislation, newly-wed Sarah travelled to London for a termination at her own expense, with flights and hotels included, of more than £2,100.

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The referendum reignited a debate about Northern Ireland's law, with some calling for reform while others - including the biggest party, the Democratic Unionist Party - remain opposed to changing the law.

The commission welcomed the court's opinion that the law was incompatible with the European Convention, but said it was disappointed in the ruling that it did not have sufficient powers to take the case.

The UK Government has resisted calls to step in and legislate amid the ongoing powersharing impasse in Northern Ireland, insisting that any decision on abortion in the region has to be taken by locally elected politicians at Stormont.

Rebecca Schiller, Chief Executive of Birthrights, the UK's only organisation human rights during pregnancy and childbirth said: "These last weeks have made it clear that we can no longer ignore the continued suffering and violation of Northern Irish women's human rights".

'The need for amendment is evident... the present legislative position in Northern Ireland is untenable and intrinsically disproportionate in excluding from any possibility of abortion pregnancies involving fatal foetal abnormality or due to rape or incest... the present law clearly needs radical reconsideration.

"Nine-point-two million people have had their lives terminated through abortion in Britain since 1967", he said.

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