Ireland condemned for anti-abortion law
Ireland will be forced to change its anti-abortion laws after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the restrictions had endangered the life of a woman because doctors feared prison if they gave her an abortion on medical grounds.
The Strasbourg judges condemned Roman Catholic Ireland for having laws that made it effectively impossible for a woman to get a lawful abortion, even if her life was threatened.
Catholic anti-abortion campaigners have reacted furiously to the ruling and called for a constitutional referendum on any future changes to the law, a popular vote that would be risky in Ireland as resentment to an EU-IMF austerity package grows.
“We have a choice between legislation and a referendum and our strong proposal is that we should be a referendum,” said Dr William Binchy, of Ireland’s Pro-Life campaign.
Mary Harney, the Irish health minister, however insisted that legislation was the preferred option to a referendum.
“I don’t want to pretend that there is an easy solution. We have to legislate, there’s no doubt about that,” she said. “This will take time as it is a highly sensitive and complex area.”
The European judges, whose human rights court predates the EU, rejected two other Irish cases but ruled that a third woman, named only as C, should not have been forced to travel to the UK in 2005 for an abortion because of fears that she or the unborn child would fall seriously ill. She was awarded 15,000 euros (£12,700) in damages.
The woman, a Lithuanian, complained to the court that she could not get proper medical advice in Ireland and the country’ laws had stigmatised and humiliated her and put her health at risk.
The European judges noted that while abortion has been allowed in Ireland on limited grounds, including safety, since 1992 “there was no explanation why the existing constitutional right had not been implemented to date”.
“The uncertainty surrounding such a process was such that it was evident that the criminal provisions constituted a significant chilling factor for women and doctors as they both ran a risk of a serious criminal conviction and imprisonment if an initial doctor’s opinion that abortion was an option as it posed a risk to the woman’s health was later found to be against the Irish constitution,” the judges ruled.”It was likewise inappropriate to ask women to pursue complex constitutional proceedings when their right to have an abortion if pregnancy posed a threat to their life was not disputed.”
Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics For Choice, a pro-abortion pressure group, hailed the European ruling and said that in the past Irish politicians have been too willing to bow to rules of the conservative Catholic hierarchy.
“It’s time to recognise that the bishops don’t speak for the Irish people, Catholic or non-Catholic, who know women need access to comprehensive health care, and that includes abortion.”
Ann Furedi, the head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, criticised the European judges for not going far enough.
“Although this ruling may help a tiny number of women of with life-threatening conditions it is unlikely to do much to change matters for the many women from Ireland with crisis pregnancies who must travel to access a fundamental service routinely available throughout Europe but which they are denied,” she said.
This article originally appeared in The Telegraph.