Legislation designed to limit access to abortions in Northern Ireland is a breach of human rights law, the Belfast High Court has ruled.

The UK’s 1967 Abortion Act does not apply to Northern Ireland, where current laws allow the termination of pregnancies only when the mother’s life is at risk or her mental or physical health is at risk of serious and permanent injury.

In 2014, Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice carried out a public consultation on amending the law to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

However the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) did not believe the consultation paper went far enough and appealed to the Belfast High Court to extend access to abortion for pregnancies with serious foetal malformation or that came as a result of rape or incest.

A judicial review found that the current limitations on abortion was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, a decision welcomed by the NIHRC.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“In taking this case we sought to change the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so.

“We are pleased that today that the High Court has held that the current law is incompatible with human rights and has ruled in the Commission’s favour.

“Today’s result is historic, and will be welcomed by many of the vulnerable women and girls who have been faced with these situations.”

It is still to be determined whether new legislation will need to be drafted to comply with the ruling.

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