By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch, Reporter
STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will hear an action on Wednesday brought by three Irish women, alleging that Ireland’s abortion ban has put their health and well-being at risk.
Abortion was originally banned and the procedure criminalized in Ireland in 1861 by the Offences against the Person Act. A 1992 Ireland Supreme Court ruling legalized abortions when there was a “real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.” This exemption included the risk of potential suicide on the part of the woman. There has still been no statutory language from the national government to clearly establish the correct application and scope of that court decision. Ireland is a signatory to the ECHR.
All three women involved in this case were forced to travel to England to obtain an abortion. According to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), since 1980 138,000 women have been forced to travel abroad from Ireland to gain access to an abortion. This has resulted in “extreme…physical, financial and emotional hardship” on the women affected. IFPA noted that the Irish abortion ban goes “against the majority of [Irish] citizens…[are] broadly in favor of liberalising the law.”
The Ireland Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, is heading the legal team that will represent the official state position in front of the ECHR. He is expected to argue that Ireland is “entitled to rely on the ‘margin of appreciation doctrine'”. Traditionally, this doctrine has allowed individual member states to have a degree of discretion in interpreting the ECHR’s law differently than other states. Additionally, since domestic alternatives to the issue at hand have not been exhausted, the ECHR lacks jurisdiction.
The Irish women who brought the case are supported by the IFPA. Their argument centers on a claim that the Irish abortion ban violates numerous provisions of ECHR, including Article 2 (right to Life), Article 3 (prohibition of Torture), Article 8 (Right to Respect for Family and Private Life) and Article 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination).
If their claim is successful it would create minimum degree of access for women, not just in Ireland but all signatory nations, to an abortion that has the purpose of protecting the woman’s health and well-being.
For more information, please see:
IRISH EXAMINER – Criticism ahead of abortion ban fight – 8 December 2009
TAIWAN NEWS – European Court of Human Rights puts pro-life Ireland in hot seat – 8 December 2009
INDEPENDENT – State defends ban on abortion as women take case to Europe – 7 December 2009
THE GUARDIAN – Women challenge Irish abortion ban in court – 7 December 2009