December 12, 2014 — The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on Wednesday said it plans to file a legal challenge to expand abortion access under Northern Ireland's abortion law to include instances of rape, incest or "serious malformation" of a fetus, BBC News reports (BBC News, 12/10).
According to The Guardian, Northern Ireland is the only region in the United Kingdom that does not operate under the 1967 Abortion Act, which means that many women in the province have to travel to other areas to obtain an abortion (McDonald, The Guardian, 12/10). Specifically, Northern Ireland currently allows abortion only when the woman's life is in danger or there is risk of permanent, serious damage to the woman's physical or mental health (BBC News, 12/10).
According to an Amnesty International report published in October, about 70% of Northern Ireland residents said they favored allowing abortion in cases of rape and incest and 60% said they supported allowing abortion in instances of fetal anomaly.
However, most political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly have opposed changing the law, The Guardian reports (The Guardian, 12/10). According to BBC News, the Northern Ireland Department of Justice is currently conducting a public consultation on the topic to assess whether abortion should be permitted in instances of lethal fetal anomaly.
NIHRC on Wednesday said it has since April 2013 "repeatedly advised" the Northern Ireland DOJ that the province's abortion law is a "violation of human rights" (BBC News, 12/10). The challenge will be filed at the High Court in Belfast, The Guardian reports.
Specifically, the group said the law violates three articles in the European Convention on Human Rights, including rights to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment, privacy and protection against discrimination on any grounds, including sex. NIHRC added that it will file suit "in its own name," citing the "vulnerability of women and girls in these situations" (The Guardian, 12/10).
Separately, a spokesperson for Northern Ireland's DOJ noted that NIHRC's challenge is "ill-timed and unnecessary" given that David Ford, the minister for justice, is already pursuing an "appropriate process ... to review and adjust the current law" (BBC News, 12/10).