Britain's top court says can not rule on Northern Ireland abortion law

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However, a majority of the seven judges presiding over the appeal declared that Northern Ireland's law on abortion is "incompatible" with Human Rights Law.

Supreme Court judges said the existing law in Northern Ireland was incompatible with human rights law, but dismissed an appeal by the Human Rights Commission on technical grounds.

"The Supreme Court has dismissed the case brought by the Human Rights Commission".

It had asked the court to rule on whether it was unlawful to prohibit abortions that arise from sexual crimes or cases involving "a serious fetal abnormality".

Currently, a termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a serious risk to her mental or physical health.

Current restrictions force women to either travel to the Great Britain to receive treatment (which over 1,000 women and girls do each year), risk prosecution for procuring illegal online abortion pills, or continue their pregnancies against their wishes and in violation of their rights.

"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.

Unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland.

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.

This view was shared by four of the seven judges. As such, the court does not have jurisdiction to make a declaration of incompatibility in this case.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said abortion is a devolved matter and should only be dealt with by Stormont, which is now suspended.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill welcomed the Westminster debate, describing it as a "first step" on the road to abortion reform in Northern Ireland.

Theresa May was today urged to defy her DUP backers and to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. "A failure to act would be a cruel betrayal of women".

Mrs O'Neill said she wanted repeal of the relevant sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act to ensure abortion was no longer treated as a criminal offence in the region.

Speaking to assembled media on Thursday morning, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, meanwhile, stated that the issues relating to Northern Ireland's abortion law should be decided "by the people who live in Northern Ireland".