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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C

'The foetus is regarded as a citizen': How world media reported yesterday's High Court decision

Ireland’s abortion ban has been thrust back in to the international spotlight.

YESTERDAY, THE High Court in Dublin ruled that a clinically dead pregnant woman’s life support could be withdrawn at the discretion of her medical team.

The St Stephen’s Day ruling by Justice Nicholas Kearns followed legal argument earlier this week over a case that once again put Ireland’s abortion laws in the spotlight.

Representatives for the unborn had initially argued against turning off life support, stating that the right to life was greater than the right to dignity in death.

However, the woman’s family – and the father of the unborn – wished for the current treatment to be stopped so they could lay her to rest.

The controversial case drew international attention in recent days and here’s what some of the world’s media has had to say…

The most prominent reporting of the case is by The Scotsman newspaper which splashes on the case with this headline:

The paper carries an article by Press Association reporter Brian Hutton who writes:

In a landmark ruling, Dublin’s High Court said keeping the young mother alive would deprive her of dignity in death and subject her father, partner and two young children to “unimaginable distress” in a “futile exercise”.


The New York Times‘s Douglas Dalby said that the case had “gripped Ireland in recent weeks” and writes:

The much-debated Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution provides equal protection for both the mother and the fetus. However, the president of the High Court, Justice Nicholas Kearns, said in an earlier hearing that it was debatable whether it was applicable in this instance because it did not appear to be “an abortion case at all.”

BBC News reported that doctors had been unsure about the legal status of the unborn child under the Republic of Ireland’s constitution and notes the judge’s ruling that to “maintain and continue” the present support would “deprive her of dignity in death”.

“It would subject her father, her partner and her young children to unimaginable distress in a futile exercise which commenced only because of fears held by treating medical specialists of potential legal consequences,” he said.


Britain’s Daily Express newspaper also covers the story and said that doctors had “refused” to turn off life support “fearing they would be prosecuted because of Ireland’s Catholic-influenced constitutional ban on abortion, which regards her 18-week old foetus as a citizen”. It adds:

The issue has reignited debate over Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion which requires doctors to take all possible measures to protect the life of a foetus. Irish doctors have appealed for decades for clearer legal guidelines on when they may terminate a pregnancy. Thousands of Irish women travel to the UK every year for abortions.

The case has also reached Australia where ABC News reported that the “unusual case” is unlikely to set a precedent but has “revived debate in the predominantly Catholic country about its abortion ban”. It adds:

The High Court said that the case raised issues of “great public importance”. The three judges ruled that the doctor should be allowed to stop giving the woman treatment as it was a futile exercise that was causing her family unimaginable stress.


While finally, The New Zealand Herald said that under the Irish constitution “the foetus is regarded as a citizen”. It adds:

The panel of judges said it was in the best interest of the unborn child to authorise the withdrawal of life support in what was a “tragic and unfortunate case”.

Court ruling analysis: This was not an abortion case, but the courts had to perform a circus balancing act

Political analysis: Despite Leo’s intervention, no one in this government will go near the abortion issue again

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