Momentum to Change Termination of Pregnancy Laws Welcomed

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The Human Rights Commission welcomes the continued momentum to change Northern Ireland Termination of Pregnancy Laws. The Commission took a case to the Supreme Court that found Northern Ireland Laws are contrary to human rights standards. The Commission has now submitted a written intervention in JR76, a judicial review challenging the prosecution of a mother for obtaining abortifacient medication for her 15-year-old daughter who was pregnant. The hearing for the JR76 case begins tomorrow (Thursday 20 September 2018).

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“JR76 is an extremely important case; it is the first time that local courts will be able to consider how our laws criminalise termination of pregnancy since the Commission’s Supreme Court judgment in June. The Supreme Court has outlined that Northern Ireland’s laws on termination of pregnancy are contrary to human rights standards. The Commission is arguing that the Court in Belfast should follow the judgment of the Supreme Court when coming to its decision in this case.”

The Supreme Court judgment sets out the current law in Northern Ireland is contrary to human rights standards, 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.

Les Allamby added:

“Women and girls continue to face being criminalised in what should be solely a healthcare matter. Healthcare professionals should be able to provide the medical assistance women and girls may need in crisis pregnancies and not face the threat of prosecution. We are supportive of the growing public and parliamentary momentum calling for change on this issue. Through our interventions in the case and directly at Westminster we are seeking a change to the law and practice immediately.”

The hearing for JR76 will take place over two days on Thursday 20 September and Friday 21 September. A ruling is expected in the JR76 case in the coming months.

Further information

For further information please contact Claire Martin on 0771 7731873 or by email on

Notes to Editors:

1. In its intervention in JR76 the Human Rights Commission has highlighted the following human rights issues to the Court:

a) Criminalisation of termination of pregnancy;

b) Prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and the right to private and family life;

c) The right to health;

d) Non-discrimination;

e) Privacy and confidentiality of medical records;

The Commission has also highlighted the judgment in its Supreme Court case where four of the seven Judges considered that to deny a woman or girl access to a termination when she is pregnant as a result of rape would be in violation of the right to private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. In the Supreme Court 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.”

5. In April 2018, the Departments of Health and Justice released a report on fatal foetal abnormality, which recommended that the law in NI is changed.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

20 Sep 2018