Northern Ireland

Reaction to Belfast appeal court ruling on abortion law

Woman in hospital Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The Attorney General and Department of Justice challenged the High Court ruling on NI abortion law

Both anti-abortion and pro-life groups have been reacting to the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruling that it is up to Stormont assembly, and not the courts, to decide on abortion law in Northern Ireland.

Precious Life, anti-abortion group

Anti-abortion group Precious Life welcomed the ruling.

The group's director, Bernadette Smyth, said: "This is a victory for the most vulnerable in society - our unborn children.

"It is also a victory for democracy - the court has acknowledged that abortion should be a matter for our Assembly, not the courts.

"Our laws protecting unborn children are compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights and other international conventions.

"The so-called NI Human Rights Commission should be hanging their heads in shame today.

"Without the right to life, all other right are meaningless. Our elected representatives in Northern Ireland must continue to upheld the right to life of unborn children in law, policy and practice," she added.

Humanists UK

Humanists UK, which has a pro-choice stance, said many people would feel the court had put politics before human rights, and betrayed women throughout Northern Ireland.

"This was not even a case that would have seen abortion laws in Northern Ireland fully aligned with those in the rest of the UK," said its Chief Executive Andrew Copson.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Abortion is only legal in Northern Ireland under limited circumstances

"It was a case brought simply to uphold the right of women to terminate their pregnancies if they have been raped or if the foetus is found to have a fatal abnormality.

"The court's decision not to defend this right is inhumane, especially knowing - as it does - that the Northern Ireland assembly is very unlikely to do so.

"This is a deeply disappointing for everyone involved in the pro-choice movement, and we must continue to campaign for the rights of women in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK until they are fully respected," he added.

Life Northern Ireland

Life Northern Ireland (LIFE NI), which has an anti-abortion stance, welcomed the Belfast Court of Appeal's ruling.

Spokesperson Marion Woods said: "Today's judgment is a great victory for the prolife movement in Northern Ireland.

"We agree with the Court of Appeal that this is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to decide.

"Northern Irish abortion legislation, as it stands, upholds the rights, lives and dignity of mothers and their unborn babies," shed added.

Amnesty International UK

Amnesty International has a pro-choice stance.

Its Northern Ireland campaign manager Grainne Teggart said: "Today's absurd ruling is an insult to women and girls and to everyone across the country who cares about justice.

"The judges had a chance to put right centuries of human rights abuse but with a flick of the pen they've just let down another generation of women and girls in Northern Ireland.

"Stormont has been failing women for too long and must act urgently to reform Northern Ireland's abortion laws and prioritise bringing legislation into line with international human rights standards, as previously called for by UN committees.

"This must include the decriminalisation of abortion.

"Women must no longer be forced to leave Northern Ireland for healthcare to which they are legally entitled," she added.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), an anti-abortion group, welcomed the ruling.

Liam Gibson, the development officer for SPUC in Northern Ireland, said: "There is no right to abortion. No such right has ever been recognised in any universal international human rights treaty.

"The right to life, however, is the most fundamental of all human rights, without this all other rights are meaningless. This right is shared equally by all human beings regardless of our disabilities or the circumstances of our conception.

"It is shocking that the Human Rights Commission, which is publicly funded, and Amnesty International, which claims to defend human rights, should demand that children be legally killed simply because they're disabled.

"Their position is clear and simple. They want to declare war on disabled babies in the womb.

"This case highlights the need for far greater support to be made available to families when an unborn baby is diagnosed with a life-limiting condition," he added.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission took the original case before the High Court which agreed with their contention that women's rights to privacy and bodily autonomy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights were breached by Northern Ireland laws on termination of pregnancy.

The Commission's chief commissioner, Les Allamby, said: "We took this case as we want to bring about a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The law on abortion in NI has been the subject of protests by different groups

"The Commission is disappointed with the judgment but retains its view that the law as it stands does not protect women and girls right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, their right to privacy or their right to freedom from discrimination.

"The Court indicated that if they receive an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court tomorrow they will be minded to grant such leave.

"This in my view is unprecedented and reflects recognition of how important the judges consider the issue to be. The Commission will now consider the Court's invitation," he added.

Iona Institute NI

The Iona Institute NI, which has an anti-abortion stance, welcomed the judgement.

Spokesperson Tracy Harkin said: "This is a very welcome ruling and a significant defeat for the Human Rights Commission which was attempting to weaken the right to life of the unborn.

"There has been a long and concerted campaign to introduce permissive abortion legislation into Northern Ireland using very difficult and rare situations such as those tragic cases where a baby might not live long past birth.

"We trust that Stormont, when it reconvenes, will continue to protect the lives and health of both Northern Ireland women and their unborn children," she added.

Green Party

The Green Party MLA, Clare Bailey, said: "Northern Ireland's abortion law continues to deny women protection under human rights legislation.

"Despite this, today's court ruling said that the protection of the rights of women in this instance falls outside its remit.

"Rather, the appeal court judges stated that devolved government should decide on abortion law reform.

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Media captionNorthern Ireland's abortion debate: For and against

"The collapse of the Assembly and Executive means that abortion law reform will not be dealt with at a regional level.

"The central point remains that compliance with international human rights standards is a matter for the state through Westminster, not for devolved government.

"Failure to reform Northern Ireland's abortion laws gives rise to repeated and flagrant breaches of international human rights standards - Westminster must take action to address this.

"With or without our devolved institutions in place, I will continue to work towards the decriminalisation of abortion and end the cruel practice of denying women free, safe and legal reproductive healthcare," she added.

Both Lives Matter

Anti-abortion group Both Lives Matter said Thursday's decision involved manifestly complex legal and moral issues.

Spokeswoman Dawn McAvoy said: "While some will be pleased with the judgement others will find it difficult. There are no easy solutions in hard cases.

"We welcome the clear signal from the judiciary that there is no right to abortion under ECHR law and that the margin of appreciation which Northern Ireland exercises is legitimate and proportional.

"The judgement was very clear that it was not for the court to overreach and amend the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, that this was the role of the legislature, she added.

Christian Action Research & Education

Christian Action Research & Education (CARE), which has an anti-abortion stance, said it was pleased all three judges had ruled that Northern Ireland's laws on abortion were "indeed compatible with human rights."

"CARE also welcomes that The Court of Appeal has strongly indicated that abortion is a matter for the Northern Ireland legislature to decide," said CARE policy officer Mark Baillie.

"Our laws on abortion must always be framed in a way that provides the best possible outcome for both the mother and the unborn child. We cannot ignore one to the detriment of the other."

"An abortion is never an easy decision to make. We recognise that there are difficulties women face with pregnancies, especially in cases where the unborn child may be born with a life-limiting disease, but we reject that abortion is the answer," he added.

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