As expected, the European Court of Human Rights has just ruled against the Irish State’s refusal to enact an abortion law. The ruling is precise and appears to dismiss the Irish government’s case in detail, adding that the State has failed to uphold a woman’s constituional rights. RTE reports that :
the ECHR concluded Ireland had breached the woman’s right to respect for her private life given the failure to implement the existing Constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland.
The woman had feared her cancer would relapse as a result of her pregnancy. In Irish law, an abortion is permissible if there is a risk to a woman’s life.
The court found that the only non-judicial way to determine the risk to a woman’s life is the ordinary medical consultation between the woman and her doctor, but that this was ineffective.
It also found that the courts in Ireland were not appropriate for the primary determination of whether a woman qualified for an abortion.
The judgment also stated it was unclear how Irish courts would enforce a mandatory order for a doctor to carry out an abortion, given the lack of information given to the ECHR by the Government regarding lawful abortions carried out in Ireland.
The court also pointed out there had been no explanation as to why the existing Constitutional right to an abortion had not been implemented to date.
The woman was awarded €15,000 in damages.
As the rulings of the court are binding, it is now likely the Government will have to implement a woman’s right to an abortion if her life is at risk.
No doubt the Court ruling will be taken as another European stick to beat Ireland with (although the ECHR is not part of the EU) and is bound to feature in some form in the general election. Will any party face the reality of the end of a virtual ban or will they try to deny their legal obligations and continue supporting the hypocrisy of an Irish solution to an Irish problem which is described below? And what will be the ripple effect in Northern Ireland?
Statistics published by the UK department of health said some 4,422 women gave Irish addresses at clinics in 2009, down from 6,673 in 2001.
The HSE crisis pregnancy programme said the abortion rate of women giving Irish addresses dropped from 7.5 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 (in the UK only) in 2001, to 4.5 per 1,000 women last year (in the UK and Netherlands).
Most women who travelled to the UK for abortions last year, were aged 20-29 (2,398 women). A total of 38 girls under the age of 16 and 155 girls aged 16 and 17 who had abortions last year gave Irish addresses. A total of 258 women aged 40 and over also travelled to England and Wales for abortions.
Of those women giving Irish addresses, some 68 per cent terminated their pregnancy at between three and nine weeks’ gestation.
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