Press Association Mediapoint
(U.K.) ,December 16, 2010
ABORTION LAWS UNDER EU SPOTLIGHT
By Geoff Meade
laws are in the human rights spotlight today in a landmark legal
ruling which could overturn the Republic's sovereign right to
protect unconditionally ``the life of the unborn'.
Three women living
in Ireland want the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
to declare the country's long-standing abortion ban a violation
of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Ireland is
The three anonymous
women - identified only as ``A, B and C' in court documents -
claim the ban forced them to travel abroad for abortions, endangering
their ``health and well-being', which is safeguarded by the Convention.
Their case, backed
by the Irish Family Planning Association and the British Pregnancy
Advisory Service, was heard in the Strasbourg court a year ago.
The Irish Government
argued that the safeguards of the Human Rights Convention cannot
be interpreted as endorsing the right to abortion - although Ireland
does supply post-abortion care and counselling despite the ban.
The Government's case
that Ireland must retain the sovereign right ``to determine when
life begins' is being supported by the Society for the Protection
of Unborn Children and the European Centre for Law and Justice,
which argue that rights are attached to ``pre-natal life'.
Abortion was outlawed
in Ireland by a 1861 rule which still sets life imprisonment as
an option for women convicted of ``unlawfully procuring a miscarriage'.
``acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard
to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws
to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend
and vindicate that right.'
The ban was reinforced
by public backing in a 1983 referendum.
The three women at
the centre of the legal challenge say being forced to leave Ireland
to terminate their pregnancies caused hardship and unnecessary
One of the three had
been diagnosed as at risk of an ectopic pregnancy, with the foetus
developing outside the womb. Another had become pregnant while
receiving chemotherapy for cancer. The third already had children
who were taken into care because of her inability to cope.
They all complained
in 2005 that the pro-life Irish law breached Human Right Convention
guarantees of the ``right to respect for private and family life,
their 'right to life``, the 'prohibition of discrimination`` and
'prohibition of torture``.
Last year's one-day
court hearing took place just two months after Ireland approved
the EU's Lisbon Treaty, following guarantees that the country's
pro-life constitution would remain unaffected.
Ironically the threat
now comes not from the EU but from the Strasbourg-based Council
of Europe, guardian of the Human Rights Convention.
If the women win their
claim today, Irish abortion law may have to be adjusted - but
not necessarily removed altogether - to take account of the health
and well-being of pregnant women.
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