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BELFAST, December 16, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A judge has ruled Northern Ireland’s  abortion law “incompatible” with the European Union’s non-binding Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – but only in the cases of unborn children with “fatal fetal abnormalities” or conceived in rape or incest.

Nonetheless, pro-abortion activists were disappointed and pro-life groups relieved because the judge did not “read down” or rewrite the law himself but deferred to Northern Ireland’s government the decision about whether to amend the law or not.

“We are relieved,” Bernadette Smyth of the Precious Life organization told LifeSiteNews. “The judge said it would be ‘a step too far’ to read down the law, and we would call it riding roughshod over democracy.” Smyth added that the party in power, the Democratic Union, is strongly Evangelical Protestant and pro-life. Its attorney general has said he is considering appealing the judge’s ruling.

Meanwhile Dawn Purves, former director of Northern Ireland's Marie Stopes  clinic, told the London Telegraph she was “hugely disappointed” by the judgement since the judge’s earlier comments on November 30, “led us to expect a reading down of the law. That didn't happen. It's like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

While the highly permissive 1967 Abortion Act prevails over the rest of the United Kingdom, the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 still applies in Northern Ireland. It punishes women and abortionists with severe penalties but has long been interpreted to allow a narrow exception when the mother’s life is threatened by the pregnancy or delivery.

Now Judge Mark Horner has ruled on a challenge advanced by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, and found it incompatible with the European Human Rights Convention’s Article Eight, by violating a woman’s right to privacy and the enjoyment of “family life,” in cases of rape incest, and fatal fetal abnormalities.

Horner said babies with fatal fetal abnormalities were “doomed” anyway and that in their case there was “no life to protect.” As for rape and incest, the current law, he said, placed an undue burden on the victims of crime. While his ruling is non-binding, if the government does not amend the law, and the same pro-abortion litigants return to court, the next judge could read down the two exceptions, literally legislating from the court.

Liam Gibson of the Northern Ireland Society for the Protection of Unborn Children stated in a news release that, “It is quite shocking to hear a judge effectively sweep aside all consideration of some of the most vulnerable members of the human family, and do so in the name of human rights.”

STORY: High Court overturns Northern Ireland’s pro-life law, calls it ‘incompatible with human rights’

Smyth agreed: “All children deserve to be treated with dignity and allowed to live out their lives to their natural terms. They are all precious.” She added that there were many women in her organization who had borne and cared for such children “for a few hours only, or a few days. The judge’s decision is an insult to all those women.”

Both organizations are urging the assembly and the government to ignore the judge. Smyth said the “People of Northern Ireland don’t take orders from London or Europe.” That, after all, was why it has its own abortion law. “We think they should be taking a lesson from us. We protect our unborn babies and our women too. That’s why Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of maternal mortality in the world.”

SPUC’s Gibson said, “We are asking people to urge their elected representatives not to abandon the children threatened by the Court's distorted view of human rights. No universal human rights treaty, including the European Convention, has ever recognised a right to abortion.”

With a general election due in a few months, Smyth’s organization is launching a campaign to promote the election of legislators both to the ruling Democratic Union and opposition Sinn Fein parties. But she admitted to LifeSite that the pro-life message did not fall on sympathetic ears with the “Catholic” Sinn Fein, which has already stated its intention to liberalize the abortion law. “We have to get Catholics in Northern Ireland to vote for life,” she said.