European Court: No Abortion Right in European Law

International   |   Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D.   |   Dec 23, 2010   |   4:21PM   |   Strasbourg, France

Europe’s highest human rights court says there is no human right to abortion in Europe’s human rights convention, and that abortion laws are the purview of sovereign states.  

The European Court of Human Rights made the statement last week in its conclusion of “A, B, and C v. Ireland.” Three anonymous plaintiffs claimed that Ireland’s strict abortion laws violated their human rights to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The women claimed that they had traveled to Britain for abortions with the belief that they could not secure abortions in Ireland given their circumstances.  

Pro-life advocates had been concerned that the court would hand down a European version of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that interpreted the right to privacy broadly and strike down all state laws restricting abortion in any way. The European court rejected that path, but found Ireland in violation of the right to privacy in one of the three cases.  

The situation involved a woman who said she was unsure what the effects of her pregnancy had on her remittent cancer, what effects medical tests would have on the unborn child, and whether an abortion would be legal in her situation. 

The court found that even though article 8 on the right to privacy does not contain a right to abortion, Ireland nonetheless violated the woman’s privacy by the law’s “chilling effect” on obtaining sufficient information about her situation.   

William Saunders said the court mischaracterized the Irish constitution which does not provide for a “right to abortion,” but rather it guarantees the right to life of both mother and child. The court was unduly intrusive, in effect telling doctors in Ireland when to “prescribe” abortion, Saunders said. 

Critics also say that the court based their findings on the woman’s feelings of uncertainty rather than on proof that her health was at risk. If the woman needed a cycle of chemotherapy, she could have received it according to Irish law. 

One senior EU official said that the facts of the case were murky because the case was never investigated for trial in Ireland. For that reason alone the court should have dismissed the case out of hand, he said, since the convention requires plaintiffs to exhaust remedies in national courts before bringing them to Strasbourg. 

“While one must be glad about today’s judgment, the way the court operates today remains a reason for grave concern for anyone seriously and genuinely committed to the protection of human rights,” the official said, “But at least it did not succumb to the pressures of those who wanted it to ‘discover,’ hidden in the penumbral fringes of the convention, a ‘right to abortion’ that would oblige all EU member states to legalize the killing of the unborn.”

The court’s decision is binding only on the 47 European nations which are party to the European Convention on Human Rights and does not extend to international law outside Europe. Note: Susan Yoshihara writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication and is used with permission.