Court: No Abortion Right in Ireland, Europe, But Attacks Ban

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 16, 2010   |   11:35AM   |   Strasbourg, France

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights today unanimously reaffirmed that the European Convention on Human Rights contains no “right” to abortion.

That’s the good news for the pro-life movement, but the court also unanimously ruled in favor of one of the three women who brought a lawsuit saying the Ireland abortion ban violates their rights.

The case, A, B, and C v. Ireland, has been dubbed by pro-life groups as “the Roe v. Wade of Europe” because the European Court of Human Rights could have construed the convention document as conferring a right to abortion not only on Ireland but on other European nations as well. It could have ruled that all countries in the Council of Europe must allow abortion or face large financial penalties in damages if ever sued.

Attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund in the United States joined the Irish government in defending Ireland’s legal protections for unborn children against three women who sued to have the country’s constitutional amendment protecting unborn children abolished.

Because the lawsuit was decided in the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, the judgment is binding on all lower chambers and member states, making it a pivotal case.

ADF Legal Counsel Roger Kiska, who is based in Europe, told “No one should be allowed to decide that an innocent life is worthless, and no one should force any sovereign nation to give up its right to protect life in its constitution if it so chooses. In this case, the court wisely upheld that right as it has done in the past. The stakes were clearly high for all of Europe, but also for other Western nations, such as the U.S., because their courts often closely watch how European courts are ruling.”

Professor William Binchy of the Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland, told the “most important” take from the ruling is that “the judgment does not require Ireland to introduce legislation authorizing abortion.”

“On the contrary, it fully respects the entitlement of the Irish people to determine legal policy on protecting the lives of unborn children,” he said.

Three women sued Ireland under the European Convention on Human Rights to overturn the country’s abortion ban saying they were forced to travel to Britain for abortions and wanting to establish a “right” to abortion. The court dismissed the claims of two of the three women, but, in the third, the court found Ireland should provide a more clear procedure to determine risk to the life of the mother and access to abortion in cases where a pregnancy would place her life at medical risk rather than requiring a person in her situation to file a legal action to obtain an abortion.

The third woman  was in remission from cancer at the time of the pregnancy and feared that the pregnancy would cause a relapse of her cancer. She was awarded 15,000 euros in monetary damages.

“The court was right to reassert that there is no right to abortion under the Convention, but it’s regrettable that Ireland lost on the third count despite such a lack of judicial record, physician consultation, or recourse to Irish courts,” Kiska said.

Leading pro-life campaigners in Ireland and England are condemning that portion of the decision.

John Smeaton, national director of the Society for Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) in Britain, said the court “misinterpreted the Irish Constitution and confused abortion with healthcare.”

“The Irish Constitution does not confer any right to abortion, nor can the right to life of unborn children in any way be held to be in competition with the right to life of their mothers,” he said. “Abortion is not healthcare, and Ireland, where abortion is banned, has the world’s best record for maternal health. If implemented in law, this judgement would legalize abortion in a wide range of circumstances.”

David Manly of Family & Life in Ireland added that that portion of the decision will “put pressure on the Irish Government to introduce legislation or official guidelines on access to abortion for women in similar situations.”

The ECHR cannot enforce its ruling, however, and the Irish Government could decide to ignore or reject it. Many other member states of the Council of Europe have, in the past, disregarded decisions of this court which they found to be unacceptable.

Manly said the court was presented no medical evidence about the third woman’s abortion.

“Today’s judgement represents a total disregard for either the right to life of the unborn or the practice of medicine in Ireland and can only be described as politically motivated interference in the sovereignty of the Republic of Ireland,” he said.

“If the government believes what it argued in this case, then it must act to ensure that current medical practice which ensures that essential medical treatment is provided to all women in Ireland continues. Medical interventions necessary to save a mother’s life, even if the life of her unborn child is unintentionally lost, are legal and available, but the deliberate killing of the unborn must remain a crime,” he added.

All three women were supported in their litigation by the pro-abortion Irish Family Planning Association, an organization which receives state funding.

“Its involvement in this case is part of a radical campaign to undermine the fundamental right to life of the unborn child,” Manly explained. [related]

The Irish Government robustly defended Ireland’s ban on abortion before the court and said Ireland’s abortion laws were based on “profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society.”

Article 40.3.3 of Ireland’s constitution reads, “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”