In a landmark ruling today, the Belfast High Court decided that Northern Ireland’s abortion law is “incompatible with human rights.” Currently, abortion is only legal in cases where the life of the mother is threatened or where there is a “permanent or serious risk to her well-being,” and hospital employees can face life in prison if they are caught providing abortions under any other circumstances.
The court’s ruling, however, does not mean that abortion will be fully legalized within Northern Ireland. Instead, lawmakers now will be pressured to update the law so that women can also get abortions in cases of rape, incest, and and fatal fetal abnormality. Per The New York Times, Judge Mark Horner explained today that the abortion law was affecting “innocent victims”:
She 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. In doing so, the law is enforcing prohibition of abortion against an innocent victim of a crime in a way which completely ignores the personal circumstances of the victim.
The Guardian points to a recent Amnesty International poll that shows a majority of Northern Ireland’s citizens agree with Horner: Over 60 percent of respondents said they believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormality. But only about one in four said they think the U.K.’s 1967 Abortion Act—which legalized abortion throughout Britain—should be extended to Northern Ireland.