Irish women take demand for abortions to Europe

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The Independent Online

Backed by the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), the women will seek to win a ruling that could force the government in Dublin to amend laws barring abortion unless a mother's life is at risk.

None of the three complainants have been named, but all are known to live in Ireland and to have had abortions in the United Kingdom in the past year. The IFPA said that the group lodged its complaint with the Strasbourg court earlier this week. Lawyers will argue before the court that Ireland's restrictions on abortion put the health and welfare of the women at risk, thereby breaching their rights. The case centres on four articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including one that protects individuals from "inhuman or degrading treatment" and another that affords rights and freedoms without discrimination on any grounds.

Ivana Bacik, spokeswoman for the IFPA campaign to change the abortion laws, said: "The IFPA has provided these women with the legal research support to enable them to take this important case to the European Court.

"It is our assessment that the grounds under which these woman are taking the case are very strong, and we hope that the case will advance quickly through the court, ultimately making a strong recommendation to the government to address what, in our view, is a violation of human rights."

The IFPA says that 6,217 Irish women travelled to the United Kingdom for abortions in 2004 and that most of those who did so were between the ages of 20 and 30.

Although this is a drop of 103 on the previous year's numbers, the association believes that hundreds more women are going further afield, using low-cost airlines to reach centres that perform cheaper abortions in countries including the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, for which statistics are not collected.

Abortion remains a highly sensitive issue in Ireland, which is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, and the Irish government has said recently that it has no intention of changing the law.

The legal case at Strasbourg is part of a wider political lobbying campaign at home and abroad by campaigners.

Irish women who have had abortions abroad will also take part in hearings on abortion in the European Parliament in October.