Home > High Court dismisses challenge by pro-life organisation to new abortion regulations in Northern Ireland

On 8 February 2022, the Northern Ireland High Court dismissed a challenge 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 had directed the Minister for Health, amongst other things, to secure the commissioning of abortion services so that they were provided by 31 March 2022. These services were contained in the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No.2) Regulations 2020 and were broadly equivalent to the regime in England and Wales. 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 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.

Colton J rejected all of these arguments. On the UNCRPD issue, relying on the decision of the Divisional Court in R (Crowter) v SSHSC, he was concerned about reliance on the Convention, given that it does not expressly prohibit abortion on grounds of severe fetal impairment. Moreover, he appeared to agree with the Divisional Court’s judgment in Crowter that these provisions “[do] not perpetuate and reinforce negative cultural stereotypes to the detriment of people of disabilities.”

It is to be noted that permission was granted on 10 March 2022 for Crowter to be heard in the Court of Appeal and that case will be heard later this year.

A summary of the judgment can be found here.

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 in the Belfast Telegraph.

In the earlier case brought by the Human Rights Commission, David Blundell QC and Yaaser Vanderman successfully appeared for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

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