In an historic development for women's rights in Northern Ireland, the strict laws against abortion have been deemed incompatible with human rights by the Belfast High Court. Abortions are currently completely illegal in Northern Ireland except for extreme cases in which the mother's life is in danger, reported The New York Times. On Monday, these laws were classified as too strict and harmful to the well-being of women across the country.
Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, currently has the harshest laws against abortion in the region. Hospital workers in Northern Ireland can be imprisoned for life for performing an abortion, and hundreds of women travel to England every year to get a safe abortion, reported The Washington Post.
"I, and many women like me, have been failed by our politicians," said Sarah Ewart, a woman from Northern Ireland who went public about her trip to England to get an abortion, according to The Guardian. "First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women's behalf. I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare."
Judge Mark Horner said that certain parts of the current Northern Irish law violate the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. A woman being denied an abortion in a case involving rape or incest "has to face all the dangers and problems, emotional or otherwise, of carrying a fetus for which she bears no moral responsibility and is merely a receptacle to carry the child of a rapist and/or a person who has committed incest, or both," he said. When a fetus is diagnosed with having an abnormality that will cause it to be stillborn, Horner argues that "there is no life to protect" and that forcing a woman to endure this pain is a human rights violation, according to The Washington Post.
Monday's ruling will put lawmakers under pressure to allow abortions in the case of rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormalities.
The move was brought about by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, whose commissioner, Les Allamby, said that "today's result is historic, and will be welcomed by many of the vulnerable women and girls who have been faced with these situations," according to The Guardian.