New Abortion Guidance In Northern Ireland Following Human Rights Judgment
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New Abortion Guidance In Northern Ireland Following Human Rights Judgment

By Charlotte Thomas, Project Co-Ordinator 29 Mar 2016
Family

In 2015, the High Court in Northern Ireland declared that the law in Northern Ireland on abortion is incompatible with Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to respect for family life and autonomy, as it does not provide an exemption to criminal liability for pregnant women having an abortion where there is a ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ (at any time during the pregnancy), or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest (up to the date on which the foetus becomes capable of living independently of the mother).

A ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ means that doctors believe a foetus has a terminal condition and will die in the womb or shortly after being born.

The court made a ‘declaration of incompatibility‘, meaning that the law could not be interpreted in a way that is compatible with the human rights contained within the European Convention on Human Rights. However, a declaration of incompatibility does not invalidate a law and the law has not yet been changed. It remains the case that, unlike the rest of the UK, abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

On Friday, Northern Ireland Government produced new guidance about when a doctor can lawfully perform an abortion. This new guidance does not change the law, but it does make it clearer, meaning doctors will know when they can perform an abortion without fear of prosecution.

This shows how human rights challenges have an impact even when they do not lead to changes in the law.

For extracts from the guidance and more discussion, see the Law and Religion UK Blog and BBC article.

Also take a look at our poster on the right to family life and autonomy and our resources on what human rights do for health  and family life.

About The Author

Charlotte Thomas Project Co-Ordinator

Charlotte was a Senior Creative Manager at Universal Music for five years before studying for an LLM in Human Rights. She has worked with organisations campaigning on a range of issues including women's rights and indefinite detention.

Charlotte was a Senior Creative Manager at Universal Music for five years before studying for an LLM in Human Rights. She has worked with organisations campaigning on a range of issues including women's rights and indefinite detention.