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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: SEO Account Manager

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant - Global Leader - FTSE 250

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Representative

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run school photogra...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - OTE £42,000

£28000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a leading s...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map