European & International News

European Court of Human Rights rules that Ireland abortion ban violates Human Rights

[Brussels, 20 December 2010] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg last Thursday issued its ruling in the landmark abortion case ABC v. Irelans. The ECHR ruled that Ireland’s ban on abortion violated the human rights of a woman known under the pseudonym ’C’, a cancer victim who was forced to travel out of the country to obtain an abortion to protect her life. The Court nevertheless opined that because Irish law allows women to travel outside the country to get an abortion and that women can get information on where to get abortions abroad the law sufficiently protects women’s health. According to the Centre for Reproductive Rights, Ireland’s abortion law is inconsistent with legal standards for abortion regulations in international human rights law and in comparison to other countries in Europe.

Ruling of the ECHR

http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?action=html&documentId=878721&portal=hbkm&source=externalbydocnumber&table=F69A27FD8FB86142BF01C1166DEA398649

Centre for Reproductive Rights Press Release

New York—Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Currently, Ireland only allows abortion when a woman’s life is in danger. Three women who were forced to travel outside of Ireland for an abortion challenged the law in 2005, arguing that the law jeopardized their health. The three women used pseudonyms – Applicants A, B, and C – in the case ABC v. Ireland. The court found that Ireland violated the right to private life of Applicant C, a woman who had a rare form of cancer and feared that it might relapse as a result of her pregnancy. The court also asserted that there were significant shortcomings in Irish medical practice to protect a woman’s life and that the state must legislate for abortion services when a woman’s life is in danger.

“While today’s ruling is an extremely important step towardsincreasing women’s access to abortion in Ireland, it still falls incredibly short in terms of protecting women’s health,” said Christina Zampas, senior regional manager and legal adviser for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This ruling fails to take into account the humiliation and the financial and practical difficulties that women endure to travel outside the country to get an abortion to protect their own health. No one should have to travel outside their own country to exercise their human rights.”

Despite the Court acknowledging that Ireland’s restrictive abortion law is out of line with the rest of Europe and had a negative impact on applicants A and B, it still deferred to Ireland to determine on what grounds a woman should be lawfully entitled to an abortion, including circumstances in which her health is in danger. The Court’s opinion suggests that because Irish law allows women to travel outside the country to get an abortion and that women can get information on where to get abortions abroad the law sufficiently protects women’s health.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the University of Toronto International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Programme submitted a joint friend-of-the-court brief to the court, supporting the challenge to the law. As an international human rights advocacy organization, the Center argued that Ireland’s abortion law is inconsistent with legal standards for abortion regulations in international human rights law and in comparison to other countries in Europe. For example, all but four countries in the 47-member Council of Europe, including Ireland, allow a woman to have an abortion to protect her health. As noted in the dissenting opinion, today’s decision is the first time the Court has disregarded the existence of a European consensus on the basis of “profound moral views.”

Applicants A, B and C were forced to travel to England to obtain an abortion, each under different circumstances. Applicant A was living in poverty when she became pregnant unintentionally. Her children were in the care of the state, but she was in the process of regaining custody. She believed another child would jeopardize the successful unification of her existing family. Applicant B learned that she was at risk of an ectopic pregnancy after learning that she was pregnant. Because it was a life-threatening condition, she sought an abortion. Applicant C had undergone chemotherapy for three years to treat cancer. When the cancer went into remission, she unintentionally became pregnant. Unaware of the pregnancy at that time, she underwent a number of tests to determine her current state of health. The tests were inadvisable during pregnancy. But when she learned that she was pregnant, she could not find a doctor willing to make a determination as to whether her life would be at risk if she continued the pregnancy to term or how the fetus might have been affected by the tests. She decided to have an abortion.

Strasbourg Consortium & Human Rights Without Frontiers

Grand Chamber Judgment Issued in Irish Abortion Rights Case

In a Grand Chamber Judgment issued 16 December 2010 in the case A, B, and C v. Ireland, the Court found, in respect of the third applicant, a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to private and family life) while declining to assert that the ECHR supports a right to abortion in contravention of national laws to the contrary. The case concerned three women, two Irish nationals and one Lithuanian national, who because of restrictions in Ireland sought abortions elsewhere. They claimed that the impossibility of having an abortion in Ireland made the procedure unnecessarily expensive, complicated, and traumatic and that the Irish restrictions stigmatized and humiliated them, risked damaging their health, and, in the third applicant’s case, her life.

In the case of the first and second applicants, the Court found that the prohibition on the termination of the pregnancies did represent an interference with their right to respect for their private lives, but that interference had been in accordance with the law and had pursued the legitimate aim of protecting public morals as understood in Ireland. Ireland’s law, noted the Court, is based "on the profound moral views of the Irish people as to the nature of life," and therefore Ireland is entitled to an extra "margin of appreciation" in the its prohibitions on abortion.

In the case of the third applicant, however, the Court noted that she had a rare form of cancer and feared it might relapse as a result of her being pregnant. The Court considered that the establishment of any such risk to the applicant’s life clearly concerned fundamental values and essential aspects of her right to respect for her private life, which are constitutionally protected in Ireland. It went on to find that the only non-judicial means for determining such a risk on which the Government relied, the ordinary medical consultation between a woman and her doctor, was ineffective and that the applicant’s recourse to the constitutional courts for determination of the lawfulness of an abortion was also ineffective. The third applicant was therefore awarded EUR 15,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is a global legal organization dedicated to advancing women’s reproductive health, self-determination and dignity as basic human rights.
The original CRR Press Release is available at: http://reproductiverights.org/en/press-room/european-court-of-human-rights-rules-that-ireland-abortion-ban-violates-human-rights-but-

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