In another example of how secular humanism is replacing archaic Christian bigotry and judgmentalism, the Northern Ireland High Court in Belfast has ruled that the Northern Ireland Abortion Laws, which differ markedly from those in the rest of the United Kingdom, are in breach of fundamental human rights.
Human rights, of course, come from the concept of maximising individual liberty, freedom of choice, freedom of conscience, equality before the Law and the right to life, rather from the diktats of a religion having it origins and taking its moral code from Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Middle-Eastern tribalism, complete with misogyny, paternalism, autocracy, slavery, a rigid social hierarchy and unquestioning obedience to the ruling elite, whatever their whims.
Unsurprisingly, extensions of human rights are frequently opposed by religious groups and organisations who constantly campaign for the right to deny human rights to others on the grounds that preventing them from doing so violates their human rights.
Currently in Northern Ireland, an abortion is only legal if "the woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health". The case was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) which argued that the right to an abortion should be extended to cases of rape or incest or cases of serious foetal malformation. The NIHRC is a statutory body established under the UK Human Rights Act commissioned to extend and protect human rights and to educate people about what their rights are and how they can seek redress if their rights are denied or violated.
In the High Court ruling, Mr Justice Horner ruled in favour of the NIHRC, saying that women who were victims of sexual crimes and fatal foetal abnormality were entitled to exemptions from the law. He ruled that because the Northern Ireland Parliament was unlikely to address this issue, the courts had a responsibility to ensure women's right under the European Convention on Human Rights were protected. However, he stopped short of ruling in favour of abortion in cases of serious foetal abnormality, only allowing it in cases where the foetus could not survive independently.
For those unfamiliar with UK government and legal systems, Northern Ireland has its own elected parliament and a governing Executive established under the Good Friday Agreement. This agreement ensures representation in government of both the Catholic and Protestant communities - the 'Power-Sharing Executive'. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought an end to some 30 years of inter-communal violence between the predominantly Catholic Republican community, which wanted unification with the Irish Republic, and the predominantly Protestant Loyalist community, which wanted Northern Ireland to remain a self-governing province of the United Kingdom. Most functions of government are devolved to this Executive including some legal matters such as Abortion Laws.
This ruling that the European Convention on Human Rights has the effect of liberalising the Law as it relates to a woman's right to abortion marks another step on the road to replacing the blanket prohibition as dictated by the (especially) Catholic Church, to a law which ceases to treat women as mere incubators for babies and which recognises that a woman has rights over her own body and the use made of it by others. The ruling has been criticised, as expected, by religious groups from both communities in Northern Ireland and may be the subject of an appeal by the Northern Ireland Attorney General.