Briefing on Northern Ireland Termination of Pregnancy Laws

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Briefing on Northern Ireland Termination of Pregnancy Laws

June 2019

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission contends that the current criminal law in NI is incompatible with the human rights of women and girls. This position is based solely on the international human rights standards, which have been signed and ratified by the UK Government, and the recommendations of the expert UN treaty bodies.

What is the current law in Northern Ireland on Termination of Pregnancy?

Termination of pregnancy is only available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully procures or performs a termination.

What is the N.I Human Rights Commission’s position on termination of pregnancy?

The Commission wants the law on termination of pregnancy to be changed in Northern Ireland. The Commission recommends that the Department of Justice introduce legislation to end the criminalisation of women and girls in NI if they seek a termination of pregnancy and to end criminalisation of the healthcare professionals who perform terminations. In line with international human rights standards, it recommends that the Department of Health ensure that women and girls have access to termination of pregnancy in at least circumstances of a threat to physical or mental health, serious foetal abnormality, rape or incest. In addition, women and girls should have access to appropriate aftercare services.

NIHRC UK Supreme Court Case

In June 2018 the UK Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s challenge to Termination of Pregnancy laws. The Court concluded the current law in Northern Ireland breaches human rights, in particular women and girls’ right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.

The Supreme Court also concluded that the Commission could not bring proceedings in its own name in this case without a victim. The Commission is now seeking a legislative amendment and an appropriate Parliamentary statement to put beyond doubt the Commission’s right to take a case in its own name.

Human Rights

In forming its view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged.

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.


14 Jun 2019