UK Supreme Court says it cannot rule on Northern Irelands abortion law

The U.K.s highest court Thursday said it could not rule on an appeal made by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) claiming Northern Irelands strict abortion laws violate womens human rights.

The human rights group did not have the legal standing to make the appeal, the Supreme Court said in its ruling. The court was therefore unable to make a declaration, despite the fact that a majority of judges held that current laws are incompatible with human rights legislation in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormality.

Northern Irelands abortion laws prohibit abortion in all circumstances, except if the pregnancy puts the mothers life at risk or if it poses a risk of “serious and permanent damage” to her physical or mental health. The legislation subjects women to “inhuman and degrading” treatment and is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, the NIHRC argued.

The Supreme Courts decision means that any change to Northern Irelands restrictive abortion laws will now have to take place in Belfast or Westminster, not in the courts.

The decision follows a historic vote to repeal Irelands ban on abortion last month and comes amid growing pressure on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the U.K. on the issue.

May has insisted that abortion is a devolved issue and should be dealt with in Stormont. Northern Ireland has been without an executive since January 2017.

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