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No interim measures in place to deal with life-threatening pregnancies

Minister James Reilly has confirmed that nothing has changed for women with life-threatening pregnancies despite a 2010 European Court ruling against Ireland.

The Action on X Alliance protesting outside the Dáil earlier this year. The group wants to see legislation to allow for abortion where a woman's life is in danger.
The Action on X Alliance protesting outside the Dáil earlier this year. The group wants to see legislation to allow for abortion where a woman's life is in danger.
Image: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland

WOMEN IN IRELAND cannot access life-saving abortion services without travelling abroad despite a 2010 ruling at the European Court of Human Rights which found the State to be in breach of its obligations, the Irish Family Planning Association has noted today.

Answering a Parliamentary written question, Minister James Reilly confirmed that the situation of women with life-threatening pregnancies remains the same as before the ruling. No interim measures to deal with such incidences have been developed since the judgement.

The IFPA today criticised the Government over this “vacuum in services for women”.

The lack of action has also been noted by the Council of Europe. During its March meeting, the Council expressed concern regarding the current situation of women who believe their lives may be at risk due to their pregnancy.

Outlining the options currently available to women, Reilly conceded that they are not deemed satisfactory or appropriate by the ECHR.

An expert group has been set up by the Government to examine the ruling in the A, B and C versus Ireland case. It is due to report its findings in July.

In the case, the court found that Ireland had not provided for the rights of Miss C as they are enshrined in the Constitution. It said that there is a notable gap in the theory and practical implementation of the right to a lawful abortion in Ireland.

The three women involved in the challenge argued that the criminalisation of abortion services jeopardised their health and wellbeing.

Reilly outlined that if another case  similar to Miss C were to arise, it would be the responsibility of the doctor to determine whether there is a real and substantial risk to her life, and not just her health. A termination can lawfully be provided if medical personnel believe the risk can only be avoided with an abortion. If the patient does not agree with – or is unsure of – the doctor’s diagnosis, as in the Miss C case, a second medical opinion can be sought.

“If a doctor refuses to give necessary life-saving treatment, the applicant could in the first instance seek a second opinion for immediate management of her concerns and as follow up bring a complaint against that doctor to the Medical Council,” added Reilly.

Niall Behan of the IFPA noted that the expert group examining the ruling will not report until mid-summer.

“In the meantime, women with life-threatening pregnancies, and their doctors, are still in exactly the same situation as they have been for the last 20 years [since the X case] with no clarity at law, no services in place and no option but to travel to the UK for abortion services,” he said.

The Council of Europe has made it clear that this is simply unacceptable and has told Ireland that it must stop prevaricating and take prompt action.

Successive governments have failed to legislate for the landmark Supreme Court decision which found that women have the right to an abortion in Ireland, if their life is in danger, including from suicide.

“As Minister O’Reilly himself pointed out, the current procedures were examined and found wanting by the European Court of Human Rights. It is inexcusable that the Minister has not introduced interim measures to vindicate the rights of pregnant women whose lives are at risk,” added Behan.

Since 1980, some 150,000 women have travelled abroad to access safe abortion services.

Read: Group criticises Ireland over rejection of abortion recommendations>

Twenty years on: a timeline of the X case>

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