The symbolic significance of Horner J’s declaration that denial of a woman’s ability to make choices about her pregnancy can in certain circumstances breach her human rights is huge, while the case’s attentiveness to the lived experience of women seeking abortion, coupled with its vindication of the NIHRC strategy, have surely marked the first tentative steps on the road to securing more accessible abortion services in Northern Ireland.
Marie Fox and Sheelagh McGuiness
In 2015, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) took a ground-breaking judicial review seeking a declaration that the law in Northern Ireland breached the human rights of women seeking abortion care. Sitting in the High Court in Belfast, Horner J ruled that the law was not human rights compliant (under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)) in denying terminations to women who were carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality or who had become pregnant as a result of rape or incest. While the exceptions carved out in Horner J’s ruling were very limited, his ruling nevertheless represented a significant legal advance. Northern Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in Europe, which has been facilitated by women travelling to access abortion care or accessing abortion pills online. The action taken by the NIHRC and Horner J’s ruling acknowledges the importance of abortion as a human rights issue and carries the potential to contest the criminalisation of the actions of significant numbers of Northern Irish women.
The full version of this landmark is written by Marie Fox and Sheelagh McGuiness.
Marie Fox and Sheelagh McGuinness ‘The highs and lows of one hectic day in Northern Ireland’s abortion struggle’ The Conversation, 2 July 2017 https://theconversation.com/the-highs-and-lows-of-one-hectic-day-in-northern-irelands-abortion-struggle-80238
Ruth Fletcher, Marie Fox, and Sheelagh McGuinness ‘Trial and Error in Northern Irish Abortion Law’ (London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, 7 July 2017) https://londonirisharc.com/repeal-london/2017/7/7/trial-and-error-in-northern-irish-abortion-law