UN Told Termination of Pregnancy Laws in N.I Continue to Breach Human Rights
Today the Human Rights Commission will report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women highlighting the UK Government’s ongoing failure to amend Termination of Pregnancy Laws in Northern Ireland.
Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:
“The UK Supreme Court ruling in June 2018 is crystal clear. Northern Ireland’s laws on termination of pregnancy are incompatible with human rights. Women and girls continue to face being criminalised in what should be solely a healthcare matter. Both the law and practice needs to change without further delay. Clinicians also need guidance that reflects the Court’s judgment and that gives them the reassurance to act and provide necessary services without the threat of prosecution. In the absence of a NI Executive we have informed the UN of the failure so far by the UK Government to intervene and uphold its obligations to protect the women and girls of NI. It would be better to resolve this issue through the legislature than through further legal action in the courts” .
This follows the Commission’s landmark Supreme Court case in June 2018 which 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.
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Notes to Editors:
1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.
2. The Commission has speaking rights at the United Nations and on Monday (23 July 2018) is attending the pre-sessional working group of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee where the Committee will discuss issues for the Committee’s upcoming examination of the UKs human rights record. (February/March 2019)
3. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has issued its initial report to the UN Committee, which will be considered at the pre-sessional working group. Read the full report here. In the report the Commission provides recommended questions that the UN Committee may wish to ask the UK government during its examination of the UKs human rights record on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
4. 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.
5. The 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.
6. In the judgment Lord Mance notes that “the present law clearly needs radical reconsideration” and that those responsible “will no doubt recognise and take account of these conclusions, at as early a time as possible, by considering whether and how to amend the law, in the light of the ongoing suffering being caused by it as well as the likelihood that a victim of the existing law would have standing to pursue similar proceedings to reach similar conclusions and to obtain a declaration of incompatibility in relation to the 1861 Act.”
7. In April 2018, the Departments of Health and Justice released a report on fatal foetal abnormality, which recommended that the law in NI be changed.
8. In February 2018 CEDAW Committee’s Inquiry Report called for the decriminalisation of termination of pregnancy in NI and for access to termination to be permitted in circumstances where there is a threat to the women’s physical or mental health, in cases of rape or incest or in cases of serious fatal abnormality of the foetus. The Committee found the UK Government responsible for grave and systemic violations of the Convention.
9. Since November 2017, NI women can receive NHS termination services in England, Scotland and Wales. Department of Health’s 2016 guidance to healthcare providers remains unchanged and does not reflect the availability of free services in England, Scotland and Wales. It also does not clarify when NI health professionals can provide information to women about accessing services elsewhere.
10. 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.
23 Jul 2018