Human Rights Commission Seeks Change to Law on Termination of Pregnancy

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Read more: Fact Sheet on Termination of Pregnancy

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has issued legal proceedings in the High Court against the Department of Justice. Since November 2013 we have repeatedly advised the Department of Justice that the existing law is, in the Commission’s view, a violation of human rights.

The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest.

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health.

The recent consultation published by the DOJ does not commit to making the changes that are necessary. It deals with cases of lethal foetal abnormality while only seeking public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest.

The issues raised by this challenge are of public interest and the Commission recognises the sensitivities of this case. Given the vulnerability of women and girls in these situations, the Commission considers it appropriate to use its powers and bring this legal challenge in its own name. It also reiterates the human rights obligation of the Northern Ireland Executive to provide adequate services to care for and support women and girls who choose to continue with a crisis pregnancy.

The Commission will not be making further comment at this time.

Further information:

For further information please contact:

Claire Martin on 02890243987 Claire.Martin@nihrc.org

Notes to Editors

1. The Commission is able to initiate proceedings in its own name and has done so previously when it successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This means that unmarried and same sex couples can now apply to adopt in Northern Ireland.

2. The Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with section 69(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.

3. In forming this view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission has 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.

4. This issue directly engages Articles 3,8,and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

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

Prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

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.


16 Dec 2014