Monday July 28th 2008
· European court to hear women's challenge to ban on abortion
CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent
THE EUROPEAN Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear a challenge by three Irish women to the Government’s ban on abortion on the basis that their rights were denied by being forced to terminate their pregnancies outside the State.
The women claim the restrictive nature of Irish law on abortion jeopardised their health and their wellbeing. Their complaint centres around four articles in the European Convention on Human Rights, including protection from “inhuman or degrading treatment” and freedom from discrimination.
The identity of the three women – known as A, B and C – will remain confidential as it proceeds through the court.
They include a woman who ran the risk of an ectopic pregnancy, where the foetus develops outside the womb; a woman who received chemotherapy for cancer; and a woman whose children were placed in care as she was unable to cope.
The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), which is supporting the case as part of its campaign to introduce legal abortion services in Ireland, said the grounds on which the case is being taken are “very strong”.
“We hope the case will advance quickly through the court, ultimately making a strong recommendation to the Government to reform Irish laws and the current status quo on abortion,” a spokesperson said.
The Government has been asked by the court to indicate who they wish to sit as a judge in the case and to submit its observations to the Strasbourg-based court.
The case was originally lodged with the court three years ago. However, the court has in recent weeks requested written observations from the Government and the women involved.
Any decision of the court is binding on the member states and must be complied with, except in very limited circumstances.
The court can decide to hold a public hearing, which would be likely to be held in the middle of next year. Alternatively, the court may review the case in paper format, followed by a public ruling, which could occur more quickly.
The IFPA says the case has the potential to contribute to a change in the law, just as the 1988 Norris case resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
It points to a ruling by the court two years ago which resulted in Poland being instructed to guarantee access to legal abortions.
It awarded damages to Alicia Tysiac, a 36-year-old woman who had sought an abortion when her doctor warned that giving birth again would seriously damage her already failing eyesight.
She was unable to terminate the pregnancy. After giving birth, she suffered a retinal haemorrhage, and her sight deteriorated drastically.
Anti-abortion groups here, meanwhile, argue that a new constitutional amendment is needed to prohibit abortion.
They say there is a need to restore legal protection for unborn children as a result of the 1992 Supreme Court decision in the X case, which legalised abortion in certain circumstances.