European Court of Human Rights Moves Key Abortion Case to Grand Chamber

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 14, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

European Court of Human Rights Moves Key Abortion Case to Grand Chamber

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 14
, 2009

Strasbourg, France ( — The European Court of Human Rights has moved a key abortion case to its Grand Chamber, making the international effects of its decision even greater. The case involves the Ireland law that bans most abortions and the move could have more of a legal effect on the court’s member states.

Abortion advocates hope to overturn Ireland’s strong pro-life laws that prohibit abortions unless the life of the mother is in danger.

Women who had to travel to England for abortions claim they were denied their rights because the Irish pro-life abortion law requires them to travel out of the country for an abortion.

The European Court of Human Rights’ recent decision to move the case to its Grand Chamber makes the decision binding on all lower chambers and on all member states.

Roger Kiska, who is based in Europe and a legal counsel for the pro-life legal group Alliance Defense Fund, tells the case could set an official policy on the issue for Europe.

“No one should be allowed to decide that an innocent life is worthless. Ireland’s constitutional amendment defending innocent life is under attack, and now the stakes have just gotten higher," he said. “With the case moving to the Grand Chamber, the ramifications of the decision that is eventually reached in the case are massive.”

“The case is not only pivotal to Europe; it is pivotal to America as well,” Kiska added. “With ever-greater frequency, American courts have considered what other countries are doing when deciding their own cases. This case could be the Roe v. Wade of Europe, so its importance should not be underestimated.”

ADF attorneys are defending the Ireland policy on behalf of the Family Research Council and the two pro-life groups filed a joint brief in November 2008 along with two other pro-life organizations at the court’s request after it allowed the groups to intervene as defendants in the case.
The Strasbourg-based court is considering whether it has standing to rule in the case.

In April, the government of Ireland filed its legal papers and rested its case on the contention that the women have not exhausted the legal remedies they have in Ireland.

As a result, government attorneys say they should not have brought the case to the court, which covers the 42 members of the Council of Europe.

The Irish government also insists the European Convention on Human Rights, on which the court operates, does not confer a right to abortion and the member states of the Council have never voted for the convention to authorize such a right.

Kiska told “This case could mean the difference between life and death for countless pre-born children who have been guaranteed protection under the Constitution of Ireland. For countless nations, life is in the balance for an untold number of pre-born children in the future.”

Bill Saunders, the Human Rights Counsel at FRC, previously told that the documents make it clear to the court that it should not confirm an international right to abortion. Such a ruling could have a bearing beyond the Ireland case and extend to other nations.

"There is no international ‘right’ to abortion, and it is important to defend the right of countries to restrict abortion," Saunders said. "Courts must respect the right of the people to decide this issue without judicial interference."

The women in the case claim the Irish abortion law jeopardizes their health and well-being and they are basing their argument on four articles in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The identity of the women is kept confidential under the lawsuit, but one woman says she had an ectopic pregnancy, another was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer at the time of her pregnancy, and the third had her other children taken away by government officials at the time she became pregnant.

The pro-abortion Irish Family Planning Association is backing the women in the case as part of its crusade to make abortions legal in Ireland.

The case was originally launched three years ago but the European court requested more information from the Irish government and the women involved.

Related web sites:
See a copy of the AD law brief for FRC at

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