Strasbourg challenge on Irish abortion ban has implications for Northern Ireland

At last “the momentous day” has arrived when the mountain of constitutional and legal obstacles to abortion care and counselling in the Republic is being challenged in the Strasbourg Human Rights court. The three women “AB and C” argue that this lack of care and counselling amounts to a violation of their human rights. One of them suffered an ectopic pregnancy.

They also say the lack of any effective legal remedy in Ireland means taking a case in the State would have been costly and futile, and could have forced them to relinquish their anonymity

. A Polish precedent before the court gives encouragement to the reformers. National governments must respond to Strasbourg rulings but in this case it’s hard to imagine the main parties rushing to overhaul the law, possibly reawakening Lisbon treaty nightmares. I’m not clear whether guidelines on abortions elswhere are possible, even if the ruling is favourable. The hearing may well have implications for Northern Ireland, where Lord Justice Girvan recently ordered the withdrawal of long awaited guidelines on abortion care and advice, but recommended a redraft. Critics said he didn’t understand what counselling entailed. Yet whether the Assembly would accept even revised guidelines remains to be seen. Only pressure from the clearest possible ruling on human rights grounds seems likely to create movement. A long legal battle still seems likely, unless Strasbourg obliges and finds legal remedy in the Irish domestic courts inadequate. Noting the possible implications for Northern Ireland, Lord Justice Girvan said.

“The legal position in the Republic of Ireland is even more restricted than in Northern Ireland… The outcome of the Irish case may well have implications for Northern Ireland even though the abortion law in Northern Ireland is governed by the Bourne test which is less restrictive than the test applicable in the Republic

.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London