Lord Mance, delivering the judgement June 7, said that had the commission the competence to bring the challenge, "I would have concluded … that the current Northern Ireland law is incompatible with article 8 of the [European human rights] convention insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest but not insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of serious foetal abnormality."
Four of the seven judges agreed that Northern Ireland abortion law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, and incest. A fifth agreed it is incompatible only in cases of fatal fetal abnormality.
But the court unanimously agreed that banning the abortion of unborn children with serious, but not fatal, abnormalities is compatible with the ECHR.
Yet Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, who is supporting the woman's legal challenge to her prosecution, called the case an "extremely important case; it is the first time that local courts will be able to consider how our laws criminalise termination of pregnancy since the Commission's Supreme Court judgement in June."
He said the Supreme Court had "outlined that Northern Ireland's laws on termination of pregnancy are contrary to human rights standards," and argued that "the court in Belfast should follow the judgement of the Supreme Court when coming to its decision in this case."
"Women and girls continue to face being criminalised in what should be solely a healthcare matter," Allamby claimed. "We are supportive of the growing public and parliamentary momentum calling for change on this issue."
Northern Ireland's abortion law could be taken up by either the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The Northern Ireland Assembly is currently suspended. The Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party, is opposed to changing the law. Sinn Féin, another prominent party in Northern Ireland, backs a liberalization of the abortion law.
British prime minister Theresa May has said abortion should be a devolved issue for Northern Ireland. But Labour MP Diana Johnson is expected to introduce next month into the British Parliament a bill to decriminalize abortion in Northern Ireland.