A HIGH Court judge in Belfast has ruled that there should be exemptions to the current abortion legislation in the North as it is in breach of human rights regulations.
The 1967 Abortion Act passed by the British Parliament does not apply to the North of Ireland. Termination of pregnancy in the North is only allowed if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) brought the case to extend abortion to cases of serious foetal malformation, rape or incest.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Horner said women who were the victims of sexual crime and cases of fatal foetal abnormality were entitled to exemptions in the law.
He concluded that the current legislation was in breach of human rights.
The North’s Attorney General John Larkin said in a brief statement that he was "profoundly disappointed" by the decision and was "considering the grounds for appeal".
However, even if the judgement is put into effect — an appeal seems inevitable — the law would still be stricter in the North than it is in Britain.
Judge Horner made a point of distinguishing between fatal foetal abnormalities which he ruled should be an exemption to the law, and cases where the foetus was "seriously malformed", these should not be exempted. In effect, the judge was making a clear distinction between babies who could not survive birth and those who could.
The judge’s ruling is likely to mean that the Stormont Executive has to consider new legislation, and could plunge the Assembly into further controversy. The political divide amongst Members over abortion is deep.
However, one statistic will be brought to the fore during any discussions is likely to be the large number of women who every year travel from the North of Ireland to Britain for an abortion.