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European Court of Human Rights rules that Irish abortion laws violate rights

Written By: Audacia Ray
December 16, 2010

 

The European Court of Human Rights just ruled on a case to reaffirm women’s rights to access abortion services when the life of the woman is threatened. Although already on the books, it was discovered that this right was not being upheld. In a case lodged in 2005, three plaintiffs had this right denied, and told the court that the impossibility of obtaining an abortion in Ireland made the procedure unnecessarily expensive, complicated and traumatic.

Says Alex Garita, IWHC’s Program Officer for International Policy, “Today’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights is a signal in the right direction towards increasing women’s access to safe abortion in Ireland, but it still falls short of protecting the human rights of women in that country. The decision does not mandate Ireland to institute the right to abortion, but rather still gives the State the right to continue to determine the instances in which women are lawfully entitled to access the service, including where her life is in danger.”

Our partner the Irish Family Planning Association, which we have been supporting in their efforts to advocate for safe abortion services in Ireland, had this to say about the case:

This decision by European Court of Human Rights reaffirms the Supreme Court X Case judgment of 1992 and two preceding referenda. Critically, the unanimous view of the Court that women’s rights in Ireland have been violated sends a very strong message that the State can no longer ignore the imperative to legislate for abortion.

Speaking following the delivery of the judgement on a case taken by three women to the European Court of Human Rights, the Chief Executive of the IFPA, Niall Behan, said: “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.

“As a first and immediate step, we are calling on the Government to set out how it intends to address today’s ruling, and ensure that no further violations of human rights take place because of the State’s failure to offer safe and legal abortion services in – albeit – limited circumstances. We don’t need another constitutional referendum, nor do we need any further court judgments. Simple and clear legislation, guided by the judgement of the European Court of Human Right’s Grand Chamber, is all that is required to afford women their human rights in Ireland. Such legislation could be prepared and passed by the Oireachtas within a short number of days.

“Furthermore, the Court has pointed to significant shortcomings in medical practice in relation to the protection of a woman’s life. Guidelines and practices now need to reflect today’s judgement. This will offer clarity and offer protection to both women and their doctors,” said Mr Behan.

You can access the full judgement here, and read our publication Access to Abortion is a Human Right here.

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