MPs to debate abortion laws amid calls to lift NI ban

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An emergency debate on Northern Ireland's abortion laws was granted by the Speaker after the Republic of Ireland's referendum decision to liberalise its own laws left Northern Ireland as the only part of the United Kingdom where abortion remains illegal.

But, by a majority ruling, the judges expressed the "clear opinion" that the current legislation is "incompatible" with European human rights laws in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.

"Abortion in cases where there is a fatal fetal abnormality or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest is available throughout the vast majority of countries in Europe", Supreme Court Justice Brian Kerr said in his written judgment in support of the court's conclusions.

The High Court in Belfast ruled in 2015 that this was incompatible with human rights law.

The Supreme Court therefore did not deliver a formal ruling on the issue.

A QC representing the commission argued that human rights were being breached, with those affected being forced to go through "physical and mental torture".

On Thursday, Deputy Supreme Court president Lord Mance said the present law "clearly needs radical consideration".

In 2017 the Court of Appeal ruled that even if that was the case, the law falls under powers devolved to Stormont and can not be changed in Westminster.

Decriminalizing abortion in Northern Ireland may come down to a vote Wednesday in London's House of Commons at Westminster.

"Had it gone the wrong way Northern Ireland would have faced abortion on demand", the Democratic Unionist Party's Jim Wells told Reuters.

Submissions were also made at the Supreme Court by a number of bodies, including seven of the UK's leading reproductive rights organisations, Humanists UK, Bishops of the Roman Catholic Dioceses in Northern Ireland, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and Amnesty International.

British-ruled Northern Ireland is left as the only part of Britain or Ireland with such a restrictive regime, after voters in the Irish republic backed the removal of a ban in a landslide vote last month that sparked calls for change in the North.

Northern Ireland's elected assembly, which has powers to legislate on the issue, voted against liberalising the law in February 2016.

Wednesday's figures from the Department of Health in England and Wales show that 4,809 abortions for non-residents were carried out in England and Wales, a similar level to 2016.

One group of activists drove around Northern Ireland distributing abortion pills.