STATEMENT: Belfast Court of Appeal ruling bad news for women's rights in Northern Ireland [29/06/2017]

Abortion ruling by Belfast Court of Appeal a major step backwards for women’s rights in Northern Ireland

The decision by the Belfast Court of Appeal not to uphold a High Court ruling that abortion legislation is incompatible with human rights law is a significant step backwards for women’s rights in Northern Ireland.

The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign had hoped the appeals court would stand over the High Court’s judgment and recognise the suffering many women face as a result of current abortion laws in Northern Ireland. We are therefore profoundly disappointed by today’s decision.  

The appeal was brought by the Department of Justice and Attorney General following a 2015 judgment by the High Court that Northern Ireland’s abortion law was incompatible with human rights laws.

Currently abortion is illegal under almost all circumstances in Northern Ireland and carries a jail term of up to life imprisonment. In 2015 Justice Horner found that the ban violated a woman’s right to personal autonomy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in cases of sexual crime and where there are fatal foetal abnormalities.

The government decided to appeal this decision - and today the Court of Appeal ruled in its favour.

A spokesperson for the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign said: “While we do not believe access to abortion should be limited to women who met a certain set of circumstances, we were heartened that the High Court ruling had acknowledged human rights breaches were taking place in Northern Ireland.

“Sadly, it seems like a case of one step forward, two steps back. We will nonetheless continue to campaign for free, safe and legal abortion for women in Northern Ireland regardless of circumstance.”

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, also of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign added: “This is a disappointing day for women’s rights in the UK.

“The Court of Appeal in Belfast has held that the abortion ban passes legal muster even in the most extreme cases – including where women are pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

“Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are draconian and discriminatory, criminalising abortions in circumstances where they have been lawful across the UK for half a century.

“This is a human rights issue for women in those extreme circumstances, but also for the hundreds of women every year who require abortion services for other reasons. We call on the UK to stop treating women in Northern Ireland as criminals and to stop treating them as second class citizens.”

Today’s judgment comes two weeks after the Supreme Court narrowly ruled against a mother and daughter (known only as A and B) who challenged the bar on women from Northern Ireland accessing free NHS abortion services when they travel to England.

All eyes now turn to Westminster, where the signs are more promising. 105 MPs have backed Labour MP, Stella Creasy’s amendment to the Queen’s Speech on allowing Northern Irish women access to free NHS abortion services in England.

The Speaker has selected it, and it will be debated and put to a vote this evening, at 5-6pm. We urge Parliament to protect the rights of women in Northern Ireland when the courts have not.


Notes for Editors:

Media spokespersons: Contact Caoifhionn Gallagher on 07799 661924 or or Barbara Davidson on 07968 145691 or

To be added to our press list please email or contact us via social media at @LdnIrishARC

What is the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC)?

The Abortion Rights Campaign is a movement for choice and change in Ireland. We aim to promote broad national support for a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution by the Irish Parliament; to push for the introduction of extensive abortion legislation by the Northern Ireland Assembly; and to ensure the health and rights of women in pregnancy are protected in line with international human rights standards. - See more at:

What is London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign?

We are the London based branch of ARC, representing the Irish diaspora in London. We launched in September 2016, with a march to the Irish embassy to represent the 77 women a week who travel to England from Ireland for abortions. We are now 600 strong – and have the support of numerous other networks including The Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment and the Repeal Project.