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Ireland’s Strict Abortion Laws Challenged In European Court

Ireland’s Strict Abortion Laws Challenged In European Court

Ireland is a deeply Catholic country, known for its stringent laws restricting abortion, which essentially make it impossible for a woman to have the procedure unless her life is in danger.  But now these laws are being challenged, not in Ireland itself, but in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  The three plaintiffs are Irish women who have all traveled to Britain to have abortions.  They say that the effective ban on abortion in Ireland violates the European Convention on Human Rights.

Almost 140,000 Irish women have traveled to Britain over the past 30 years to have abortions; currently, 6,000 women are estimated to leave the country each year for the procedure.  And the illegality of abortion is deeply entrenched in Irish law, which dates from 1861.  In 1983, the Irish constitution was amended to state explicitly that life begins at conception.  This is the first challenge to Irish abortion law in over 15 years.

The three women, who will be identified only as A, B and C during the trial, are arguing that being forced to travel abroad for abortions endangered their “health and well-being” as safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights.  The lawyers for the Irish government, however, claim that the convention does not actually endorse the right to abortion.  Other Irish lawyers see a threat to Ireland’s sovereignty.  Johanna Higgins, a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Lawyers of Ireland, said that “a ruling against Ireland would be an infringement of its ability” to create and decide its own laws.

“Whatever the human rights aspects are of this, abortion is illegal in Ireland because it is a criminal offence,” she said.  “If I were in any country and this were to go against Ireland, I would be very concerned that the Europeans feel they can step into domestic law.”

The Irish Family Planning Association, however, was openly supportive of the challenge to the laws, describing the current restrictions on abortion as “draconian.”  The three women’s lawyer,  Julie Kay, said that anyone undergoing an abortion in Ireland “is legally bound to life in prison, an horrific perspective”. The women, who all experienced medical complications on their return to Ireland, said that the ban made the procedure expensive, complicated and traumatic.

The situation is complicated, because I do understand the fears of Irish citizens who feel that their ability to decide their own laws is at stake.  But I think, also, that this fear is being used to hide the fact that Ireland’s abortion law is a violation of a woman’s basic right to choose.  The fact that women must travel abroad to access abortions (proving that some Irish women, regardless of their religion, do not support these restrictions) at significant risk and expense is a violation of their human rights.

And there does seem to be precedent for this court to censure member states for refusing to provide abortion; in 2007, the ECHR awarded damages to a Polish woman, Alicia Tysiac, who sued the Polish government after being denied an abortion in 2000.  However, the Tysiac case was different in some ways because she requested an abortion on recognized medical grounds and was still denied.  So this case could be an important expansion of abortion rights, rather than simply a protection of the already incredibly limited rights that women have.  I’ll be following this case, and I hope that the ENCR recognizes the right of women to have access to safe abortion, if they feel the need.

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4:40AM PDT on May 7, 2013

surely its up to each person involved to make their choice, whats troubling me is there dont appear to be any time line involved in this so basically a fetus can be terminated up to the last day.would we be having this posting if Savita had lived I doubt it, but she was in a right wing hospital in Galway & from what we have seen common sense outside of all the medical procedures or lack of same was not invoked. as a pro live believer I would hold life sacred that would include all living things in that belief however if you cant save both at least do what ever is needed to save one if the fetus could not survive without Savita why was she not given a c section, could it be the hospital waited far too long for Savitas good to fulfill the hospital criteria I wish her husband well in his battle with the H. S.E.from experience they close ranks to stifle any type of inquiry but he is an intelligent man & wont be fobbed off I have nailed my colors to the mast this is only my thinking in regard to this debacle that cost two lifes & destroyed the happiness of her husband, beliefs which I would never impose on an other as I believe we are responsible for freely made choices as to date the only thing Ive ever seen that was black & white was a zebra.

2:53AM PDT on May 5, 2013

Good for them! They should le the mother have an abortion if her health is not good, or if the fetus cannot survive.

1:19PM PST on Dec 25, 2009

Gabi B - I will also say to the both of you that you are projecting. You are projecting you thoughts and feelings as fact and true knowledge, neither is valid.

You are also projecting feelings and thoughts as fact and true knowledge, which might not be valid either. You have your opinions, and I have mine. I am stating them here - you don't have to agree - I'm just stating them - same as you are. But just because you don't agree with my opinions - all sorts of statements are being thrown at me. I have the right to disagree with you - you don't have to agree with me - I'm not asking you to! But I do have the right to free speech, same as you.. You DON'T know for sure, if the baby feels pain upon being aborted. Surely if you had the right to life, so has every child.

1:12PM PST on Dec 25, 2009

"Frankly, I could go on for a very long time. I'm sure you get the gist. So again I ask you about the taking of life. I noticed you did not say no."

Gabi B. I say no now. I do try not to take any life in my daily life - of any description. I don't even buy anti-bacterial cleaners purposely. If the choice though is my life or the bacteria's life, then I will take an antibiotic. In as much as I can I try not to take life.

Shannon Jones - You do understand there are a lot of different people in this world with a lot of different beliefs and what's right for one individual is not necessarily what is right for all individuals right?

Of course I do, but that doesn't change the fact that we were all foetuss once too and we did not become human upon leaving the womb, we were human from conception. Why have I as a woman, got more right to life than the life I would carry if I were pregnant? We all had to start somewhere.

Sarah - it's just a benign parasite and it's only allowed to stay with the mother's consent. The fetus becomes a person when it takes a breath outside the womb.

That's just your opinion, but calling an unborn human being "a parasite" shows how unfeeling you are and therefore it's no surprise to me that you don't care about whether it does feel pain or not. I wonder if you were that foetus of 10 or 20 weeks and it was happening to you, and you were in agony, would you change your mind then.

9:41AM PST on Dec 20, 2009

Do you little storm troopers ever consider the feeling of the women who have had abortions for medical reasons or because of horrible fetal deformities or incurable abnormalities which sentence them to lives of misery and pain?

No, instead you brand these women as murderers and demonize them while you sit comfortably in your ivory towers of self righteous intolerance and judgemental ignorance.

8:57AM PST on Dec 20, 2009



11:24PM PST on Dec 16, 2009

Regina B asked how do we know how much pain the foetus experiences during an abortion?
Studies have been done on the nervous system of foetuses, and very early viable births which survived.
Often very early viable births have to under go many "painful" medical interventions, like repeated blood tests, etc - the research shows these babies feel no pain. Their nervous system is not yet developed enough to feel pain.
Neither is the nervous system of any unborn child, prior to 30 weeks gestation.
So the argument that abortion is a painful experience for the foetus is totally negated!

11:04AM PST on Dec 16, 2009

Elizabeth F. - you are being very closed-minded and narrow in your thinking and you are missing the point..... Choice is the key women's right here that is restricted. If you would prefer to choose to have a baby (even if you were raped, drugged or deceived into getting pregnant) then I would not judge you. That is your belief and your right to keep that baby.

Why can't you offer the same respect to other women? You do understand there are a lot of different people in this world with a lot of different beliefs and what's right for one individual is not necessarily what is right for all individuals right?

7:55AM PST on Dec 16, 2009

"How do any of us know what pain and torture the "foetus" / child goes through while it is undergoing whichever kind of abortion is being carried out on the child. If the "foetus" is being chopped up inside the womb, or the saline method is being used - who's to say what agony that child is going through."

Elizabeth F. - this really only applies from a certain developmental stage on. The embryo/ fetus needs a fairly well developed nervous system to be able to experience pain - and most certainly to experience more complex emotions like fear. This website says a fetus is able to experience pain from approximately week 18 of fetal development:

6:15AM PST on Dec 16, 2009

abortion would never have been an option for me, but i do think it`s every womans right to decide for herself.

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