Women and girls in Northern Ireland may soon have a lot more leeway with regard to abortions, the AP reports. Northern Ireland has a near-total ban on abortion—it's only allowed when the mother's life or health is in serious danger—but a high court judge in Belfast ruled Monday that parts of the 19th-century law are "incompatible" with the human rights of women and girls, the Guardian reports. Under the law, abortion is not allowed even in cases of rape, incest, or fatal fetal abnormalities, and medical professionals who carry it out can face life in prison. With this ruling, the Royal College of Midwives says, health professionals carrying out abortions in hospitals have been given some legal protection "and a release from the fear of prosecution."
"In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the article eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal fetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions," says the justice in his ruling, noting that the assembly has been reluctant to loosen up the abortion law. The ruling came about as a result of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission taking the Department of Justice to court, and the DoJ has six weeks to decide whether to appeal the decision. The attorney general says he is "profoundly disappointed by this decision and I am considering grounds for appeal." (Read more Northern Ireland stories.)