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Irish Abortion Law Violates European Convention, Says Human Rights Court

Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that despite Irish law allowing for abortions in cases which pose “real and substantial risk” to the life of the mother, in practice the government makes it impossible for women to obtain abortions in these circumstances. This ruling was in response to the case of a pregnant woman with a rare form of cancer who was forced to travel to Britain for an abortion after doctors in Ireland  were unwilling to inform her if her pregnancy was jeopardizing her health. The ruling found Ireland in violation of its own constitution and ordered the government to pay the woman 15,000 Euros, or about $20,000. 

Now, Ireland will most likely have to rewrite its laws on abortion, with specific instructions as to how women with life-threatening conditions can obtain the procedure.  Julie Kay, lead counsel for the woman in the case, stated, “Ireland has to move swiftly… every day they’re not reforming their abortion laws, they’re violating the judgment of the European Court.”

In 1992, abortion controversy was highlighted in Ireland after a 14 year-old girl was impregnated as a result of rape. The girl became suicidal after the government learned of her case and the Attorney General obtained a High Court order prohibiting her from seeking an abortion or traveling outside the country to obtain one. The Irish Supreme Court ultimately ruled that her suicidal condition put her life at risk, and ruled that abortion be allowed where continuation of pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the pregnant woman’s life. 

Despite this ruling, in the years since women seeking abortions have found doctors unable or unwilling to deem their condition as relevant to the abortion ruling, often for fear of criminal persecution. As a result, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has estimated that over 5,000 Irish women travel abroad for abortions each year.

IFPA’s Chief Executive, Niall Behan, remarked, “Today’s decision is a landmark one for Ireland and, in particular, for women and girls. The very considered and clear view of the European Court of Human Rights leaves no option available to the Irish State other than to legislate for abortion services in cases where a woman’s life is at risk.”

NY Times Article available here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/17/world/europe/17ireland.html?src=mv

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