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Ireland may legislate for abortion following European court ruling

One of the three women who claimed that her rights were violated by Ireland’s ban on abortion wins a landmark legal challenge.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT may be forced to introduce new legislation permitting abortion in certain circumstances following a landmark ruling of the European Court of Human Rights this morning.

Ruling in the case of A, B and C versus Ireland, the court – which has legally binding status on the 47 countries over which it has jurisdiction – ruled that the rights of woman C, who was unable to seek an abortion in the UK because she was undergoing chemotherapy at the time, were breached by the restrictions on abortion within Ireland.

Woman C, having been unable to find a doctor in Ireland who could confidently state her pregnancy posed a danger to her own life, had tried to have an abortion in the UK, but was unable to do so.

Because she had sought to have her abortion within eight weeks of conception, she would have had to undergo a medical abortion, where drugs are administered to induce miscarriage.

She could not find a doctor in the UK who would give her that procedure, however, because of the need for medical follow-up. Instead, she was forced to wait for eight weeks – until she was able to undergo a surgical abortion.

Feared for her health

In the meantime, she had been under great emotional distress and had feared for her health, and when she returned home, she suffered the complications of an incomplete abortion which included prolonged bleeding and some infection.

The requirement of the women to travel abroad to have the abortions carried out was “a significant psychological burden on each applicant,” the court ruled.

The court had ruled that the Irish restrictions on abortion were a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives any person “the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”.

That article also guarantees a person the right not to have “interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right”.

The court said that the provisions of Article 13, which said any breach of rights should have a remedy within a country’s courts, had not been given by the Irish state.

Although the Supreme Court ruling of the X Case, meant she could only undergo one if a doctor was prepared to declare a danger to her health, should have given her the right an abortion, Woman C could not get clarification from her doctors as to the conditions that allowed her to have an abortion lawfully.

The binding ruling means that the Irish government may now be compelled to introduce legislation allowing abortion in circumstances similar to those of Woman C – essentially legislating for the findings of the X Case from 1992, which has not been done to date.

The ruling may also have implications for the other 46 countries under the ECHR’s jurisdiction, which may now have to introduce similar measures in cases where they also prohibit abortions.

The state has also been forced to pay Women C €15,000 (plus tax) in non-pecuniary damages.

Dismissal of other claims

The claims of two other plaintiffs in the case, however, were dismissed by the court.

Woman A had seen her four other children taken into social care due to her alcoholism, and feared that a further pregnancy would damage the prospects of winning them back into her own care.

Woman B, meanwhile, had become pregnant unintentionally, despite having taken the Morning After Pill after intercourse, and had been told she was at risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.

B had been forced to travel to the UK for an abortion, but had had to return to the UK for further medical care after passing blood clots upon her return. The lack of abortion facilities in Ireland had made her procedure unnecessarily traumatic.

The court ruled that there had been no violation of Article 8 in their cases.

The ruling has been welcomed by the Irish Family Planning Association, which backed the cases taken by the women, which called for the government to introduce legislation outlining the exact terms under which abortions were to be allowed.

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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