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Friday, October 28, 2016
Ireland: Family & Life responds to ECHR abortion judgement
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European Court of Human Rights

Family & Life have issued the following statement today: The judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of A,B, and C v. Ireland has given rise to a good deal of confusion regarding its implications for Ireland’s law on abortion. A number of important points need to be borne in mind which have received scant attention in media reports.

Firstly, the Court did not find fault with Ireland’s law on abortion, in fact it recognised that “the protection in Ireland of the right to life of the unborn” is a “legitimate aim” of Irish law. It dismissed the claims of plaintiffs A and B that their rights were infringed by the fact that they could not lawfully obtain abortions in Ireland on grounds of health and wellbeing. The Court dismissed the Irish government’s worrying contention that A and B might have gained approval for abortions in the domestic courts. This is welcome. The Court also stated explicitly that “Article 8 cannot ... be interpreted as conferring a right to abortion”.

The case made by C was unsubstantiated and unsupported by any medical evidence for her claim that her pregnancy endangered her life. By the time that C underwent her abortion it had been confirmed that she did not have an ectopic pregnancy. She was, in fact, able to avail of medical care in Ireland subsequent to her abortion. The Court acknowledged the finding of the 1999 Green Paper on abortion that “there was no medical evidence to suggest that doctors in Ireland did not treat women with cancer or other illnesses on the grounds that the treatment would damage the unborn,” and the testimony of the Chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1999 that “where there is a direct physical threat to the life of the pregnant mother, we will intervene always.”

The legal action of the three women was backed by major Irish and international abortion advocates. In addition to the Irish Family Planning Association (an affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation), which funded the litigation, Doctors for Choice (Ireland), the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the Center for Reproductive Rights and the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Programme all submitted observations to the Court.

What the Court found was that C’s rights were infringed by the fact that there is no legislation providing a framework for the implementation of the Irish Supreme Court’s ruling in the X Case. The problem is fundamentally one relating to that judgement. The reason there is no such legislation is that it is widely recognised that it would be impossible to draft legislation within the parameters of the X Case judgement that would not widely permit abortion in circumstances that would be unacceptable to a substantial majority of the Irish people. The X Case provided no gestational time limit for abortion and, by recognising a threat of suicide as grounds for abortion, opened the possibility, in effect, of abortion on demand. In the absence of a revisiting of the X Case judgement by the Supreme Court, the only means whereby this problem can be resolved is a further amendment of the Irish Constitution that would allow for legislation clarifying the circumstances in which doctors can intervene to save the life of a pregnant woman. This is why Family & Life is in favour of such an amendment.

If the government believes what it argued in this case, then it must act to ensure that current medical practice which ensures that essential medical treatment is provided to all women in Ireland continues. Medical interventions necessary to save a mother’s life, even if the life of her unborn child is unintentionally lost, are legal and available, but the deliberate killing of the unborn must remain a crime. Family & Life. December 17.

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Tags: abortion, European Court of Human Rights, Family & Life

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