NI Court of Appeal rejects challenge to abortion laws

The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal has today dismissed an appeal by the Society for the Prevention of Unborn Children (“SPUC”) against the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021 and the Abortion Services Direction 2021: In re SPUC Pro-Life Ltd.

By these enactments, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has directed the Minister for Health, amongst other things, to secure the commissioning of abortion services. In addition, he had directed the First Minister and deputy First Minister to include abortion-related matters brought forward by the Minister for Health, which require executive approval, on the agenda for the next meeting of the Executive Committee.

SPUC challenged these enactments on various grounds, including that: (a) they were unconstitutional for purporting implicitly to amend the Northern Ireland Act 1998; (b) they were ultra vires the enabling power in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019; and, (c) they breached Article 2(1) of the NI Protocol for violating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, given that they sought to enforce rules allowing abortion of fetuses with severe fetal abnormalities.

The Court of Appeal (Keegan LCJ, Treacy LJ and Humphreys J) rejected all of these grounds. It did, however, cast some doubt on the reasoning of the majority of the Court of Appeal in R (Crowter) v SSHSC [2022] EWCA Civ 1559 as to whether abortion on the ground of severe fetal impairment perpetuated negative stereotypes towards persons with disabilities.

This case follows an earlier case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, in which it was found by the High Court that the Secretary of State had breached his duty to act expeditiously in ensuring abortion services were available.

Yaaser Vanderman appeared for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission as Intervener in the case. The case has been reported on BBC news and ITV News.

Download your shortlist

Download All Download icon