Ireland's abortion law 'violated woman's rights'

European court upholds complaint and reopens divisive debate

A European court yesterday found that Ireland had violated the rights of a pregnant woman who complained that the country's restrictions on abortion had risked damaging her health and possibly her life.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that in failing to implement the right to a lawful abortion, Ireland had breached the woman's right to respect for her private life.

The ruling by the court in Strasbourg seems destined to reignite an issue that for decades has remained on the political agenda of the Irish Republic, but remains stubbornly unresolved.

Although it has been the subject of divisive referendum campaigns, heated political debates and various emergency court cases, no easy resolution is obvious for what is probably the most fraught issue in Irish society.

The case was taken by three women who complained that Irish restrictions stigmatised and humiliated them, risked damaging their health and, in one case, posed a risk to a mother's life.

The court upheld the complaint of one of the women who was in remission from cancer and had inadvertently become pregnant. She said she believed her pregnancy could cause a relapse of the cancer, and, because she could not obtain clear advice, had decided to have an abortion in England.

The court concluded that the provisions of a law prohibiting abortion constituted "a significant chilling factor for women and doctors" since legal uncertainties meant both ran the risk of a serious criminal conviction and imprisonment.

The woman was awarded damages of €15,000 (£12,700).

Campaigners reacted to the judgment with calls for the government to clarify the law. However, the present Fianna Fail government is in its last months, with elections due early next year.

In Irish law, abortion is prohibited by a criminal law of 1861 which stipulates that any pregnant woman or third party intending to cause a miscarriage may be jailed for life. But a 1992 Supreme Court ruling held that abortion was lawful in Ireland if it meant there was a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother.

The courts have also given permission for teenaged girls to travel to England for terminations in cases where they were raped or carried foetuses which could not survive. In this, they were following in the footsteps of more than 5,000 Irish women and girls who annually travel to England and Wales for abortions.

The Irish Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, said that the decision of the court was "clearly a very important judgment that raises a number of issues that will have to be carefully considered".

The Irish government sent Attorney General Paul Gallagher to contest the women's case, which he claimed was "a significant attack" on the health service and the treatment, advice and support it offered.

He argued that Irish laws rested on "profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society".

Reaction yesterday to the judgment gave a foretaste of the emotions which the continuing abortion debate can be expected to generate.

Niall Behan, of the Irish Family Planning Association, which supported the case, said: "This is a landmark for Ireland and, in particular, for women and girls. It 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."

But John Smeaton, of the anti-abortion Society for Protection of Unborn Children, said: "This warped decision lacks all legitimacy. Abortion not only kills children – it is deeply damaging to women."

While the court's conclusion did not include any precise advice on how Irish law might be changed, it reflected what was already known: that abortion regulations lack all clarity. The problem is that no consensus exists in Ireland as to how clarification should be introduced, and in what circumstances abortion might be available.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Furyon London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam