Media Outlets Misreport European Court Decision for Ireland Abortion Ban

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 17, 2010   |   1:04PM   |   Strasbourg, France

Mainstream media outlets reporting on the important European court decision concerning the Ireland abortion ban and the legal challenge three women filed against it have misled readers.

The European Court of Human Rights’ ruling that there is no right to abortion in Europe or Ireland prompted headlines such as CNN’s saying “Court condemns Irish ban on abortion” and even the Irish Times reporting “Irish abortion laws breach human rights, court rules.”

But American bioethics attorney Wesley J. Smith reviewed the ruling and says “The European Court of Human Rights has refused to impose a European Roe v. Wade.”

“Three women sued Ireland because the country outlaws abortion. But the Court ruled that there is no “right” to abortion in the European Convention, and hence Ireland’s law remains in effect,” he note. “How novel: A high court allowing a sovereign entity to decide a crucial issue of morality and law for itself.”

Bill Saunders, a Harvard-educated attorney for Americans United for Life also noted the true outcome of the European court’s decision.

“The ECHR held there was no right to abortion under the convention, which is binding on 47 nations. Thus, each nation may decide for itself what to do about abortion. While this is good news, it shouldn’t be surprising — the convention never mentions the word ‘abortion,'” he wrote yesterday.

Saunders does talk about the “bad news” for pro-life advocates — that the “ECHR told Ireland that its domestic laws were insufficient regarding one of the three plaintiffs” and it should provide for abortion in the case of a woman with cancer who may lose her life if she continues the pregnancy.

“That, however, is something the (overwhelmingly pro-life) citizens of Ireland must wrestle with, perhaps further amending their constitution to ensure this loophole in their pro-life laws is closed. For other pro-life people across the world, however, the decision in ABC is reason to rejoice,” he concluded.

Even the Huffington Post, a liberal, pro-abortion blog, understood the outcome of the decision that media outlets poorly explained.

“In fact, the court specifically ruled that Ireland’s abortion laws are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. It merely found that there should be a better procedure in place to enforce the existing laws, and that the lack of an adequate procedure breached one applicant’s right to privacy,” it reported. “Substantive Irish abortion law stands untouched. The Court found that Ireland’s laws ‘struck a fair balance between the right of the first and second applicants to respect for their private lives and the rights invoked on behalf of the unborn.’”

The Post knocked the “misleading headlines and inaccurate reporting” coming in the wake of the decision.

Jeanne Monahan, Director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, also provided a pro-life analysis of the decision:

In a decision involving challenges to Ireland’s abortion laws, the European Court of Human Rights today held that the European Convention on Human Rights does not contain a general right to abortion. In a suit that had been dubbed the “Roe v. Wade of Europe,” today’s decision was a substantial victory for the unborn. The ruling stymies the international abortion movement’s claims that abortion is a universally-recognized right.

Europe’s highest court has sent a very welcome message not only to its constituent countries but to the world at large that the so-called ‘right to an abortion’ is neither fundamental nor recognized worldwide, as abortion advocates would suggest.

We are thankful that the European Court on Human Rights stood by the right of a nation to define its own laws, and also that the court stood by the life of the unborn. The result of Europe’s ‘Roe v. Wade’ decision reaffirmed that it is up to nations to define their own laws, and that a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body does not extend to a right to terminate a life she is carrying.

Of final note is that with respect to one of three plaintiffs, the Court also held that Ireland had not provided proper procedures pursuant to Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution whereby a life-saving abortion could be procured effectively. This procedural failure was deemed to violate the Convention’s Article 8. It is anticipated that the Irish government will correct this situation while also continuing to maintain its current protections for unborn children.

One of the leading pro-life groups in Ireland, the Pro-Life Campaign, gave an interpretation of the ruling that reveals the incorrect reporting by many mainstream media outlets.

“Today’s judgment from the European Court of Human Rights will require detailed analysis over coming days but some clear points emerge immediately. The most important is that the judgment does not require Ireland to introduce legislation authorizing abortion,” writes Professor William Binchy. “On the contrary, it fully respects the entitlement of the Irish people to determine legal policy on protecting the lives of unborn children.”