European Court of Human Rights condemns Irish abortion laws

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The European Court of Human Rights has ruled this morning that Irish abortion laws violated the rights of one of three women who sought terminations in Britain. The woman, who was in remission for a rare form of cancer, feared it might return as a result of her pregnancy.

While abortion in Ireland is technically allowed if a woman's life is at risk, the court said that was not made possible for the woman involved.   

The ECHR unanimously ruled this that the woman's rights were breached because she had no “effective or accessible procedure” to establish her right to a “lawful abortion”. The woman—known only as “C”—had a rare form of cancer and feared it would relapse when she became pregnant. She claimed she was unable to find a doctor willing to make a determination as to whether her life would be at risk if she continued to term. In the absence of any medical evidence, the court concluded that neither the “medical consultation nor litigation options” relied on by the Government constituted “effective or accessible procedures”.

“Moreover, there was no explanation why the existing constitutional right had not been implemented to date,” the court ruled. “Consequently, it concluded that Ireland had breached the woman's right to respect for her private life given the failure to implement the existing Constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland.”The court ruled that there had been no violation of the rights of the two other women involved in the case—A and B.

All three women were supported in their litigation by the  Irish Family Planning Association, an organisation which receives state funding.

The Irish Government defended Ireland’s ban on abortion before the court and said Ireland’s abortion laws were based on “profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society”.

Pro-life groups have protested over the ruling and will be campaigning against its implementation. 

“Today’s judgement represents a total disregard for either the right to life of the unborn or the practice of medicine in Ireland and can only be described as politically motivated interference in the sovereignty of the Republic of Ireland”, commented David Manly of  the Irish campaign group, Family and Life.

Family and Life said in a statement: "Today’s judgment makes a mockery of the very notion of human rights by ignoring the most fundamental right of all, the right to life. 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."

The ruling will put pressure on the Irish Government to introduce legislation or official guidelines on access to abortion for women in similar situations.

John Smeaton, national director of the Society for Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said: "The court has misinterpreted the Irish Constitution and confused abortion with healthcare. The Irish Constitution does not confer any right to abortion, nor can the right to life of unborn children in any way be held to be in competition with the right to life of their mothers. Abortion is not healthcare, and Ireland, where abortion is banned, has the world's best record for maternal health. If implemented in law, this judgement would legalize abortion in a wide range of circumstances.

"This case was never about helping women faced with a crisis pregnancy. It was instigated by the international abortion lobby, which has with the ultimate aim of forcing governments across the globe to recognise access to abortion as a legal right.

“This warped decision lacks all legitimacy. It is vitally important that the people of Ireland continue to stand-up for the rights of unborn children who are the youngest and most vulnerable members of society. Abortion not only kills children: it is deeply damaging to women", concluded Mr Smeaton.

Patrick Buckley, of European Life Network Ireland and of SPUC, said: “The court has failed to respect Ireland’s national sovereignty by unilaterally misinterpreting the Irish Constitution's protection of the right to life. Ireland must dismiss out of hand this interference in a very sensitive national and constitutional issue. Europe is again deciding over the heads of the Irish people. We wonder what will be next tomorrow?

“In protecting  the unborn from abortion Ireland is fulfilling its duty under international human rights law to protect the lives of its innocent citizens. In any case, the Irish Supreme Court has already ruled* that the Irish Constitution trumps the European Convention on Human Rights, because the Convention is not part of Irish law and therefore not directly applicable in Irish cases”, concluded Mr Buckley.

For more information, see Family and Life:



Source: SPUC/Family&Life/ECHR

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