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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Floyd Mayweather will relinquish his five world titles after beating Manny Pacquiao
boxing
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living