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Stormont is place to decide legislation on abortion

The much anticipated ruling by the Supreme Court on a challenge to the current abortion legislation in Northern Ireland, has achieved that rare feat of allowing both sides of the debate to claim some form of victory.

While the appeal by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) was rejected, this case is significant in wider terms and comes as pressure is growing for a change in the law following the overwhelming vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment in the Republic.

Although pro-Life campaigners will be relieved that the judges did not uphold the appeal they will also recognise that the grounds for dismissal were on the narrow issue of who has the authority to bring such a case.

A majority of judges determined that the NIHRC had no legal standing to bring its challenge and it could only have been brought by a woman impacted by the abortion ban.

This is being viewed as essentially a technical point which will open the way for a further challenge.

However, it is the opinion expressed by the majority of judges in relation to cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality that is likely to have wider repercussions.

The Supreme Court's majority view is that the current laws are incompatible with article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a written ruling, Lord Mance said the present legislative position in Northern Ireland is 'untenable and intrinsically disproportionate' and urged an early consideration of the legislation.

Clearly, yesterday's ruling will need to be carefully studied by everyone with an interest in this important issue, particularly politicians whose role it is to amend, repeal and maintain legislation.

And while the court did not make a formal declaration, the robustly expressed thinking of the judges means that this is far from the end of the matter.

Secretary of state Karen Bradley said the comments from the court on the issue of incompatibility will be 'clearly heard' by both Westminster and politicians in Northern Ireland.

There is no doubt that in recent times there has been a fundamental shift in relation to social issues, including abortion. That was all too apparent in the Republic where the leaders of the main parties campaigned for a Yes vote.

In the referendum debate, many believed that abortion was an issue that should be taken out of the constitution and handed over to democratically elected and accountable politicians for legislation.

The Dail will have its say, just as Westminster had its say earlier this week.

It is regrettable that the Northern Ireland Assembly is unable to have its say on this sensitive and deeply personal subject.

Our political leaders should redouble their efforts to restore the devolved structures and make sure it is locally elected representatives who decide on abortion legislation.

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