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Catholics Welcome Decision on Abortion in Ireland

December 16, 2010

Today’s judgment by the European Court of Human Rights declaring that Ireland’s abortion law violated the rights of a woman who had to travel overseas to have an abortion is an important first step in ensuring that women in Ireland can access abortion services without having to leave the country.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said, “While it would have been better if the court’s decision had embraced all three of the women’s cases, it is nonetheless a welcome decision. For too long, Irish women have been denied rights that are recognized by the majority of governments in Europe. Women’s right to life, dignity, privacy and humane treatment are at risk because of Ireland’s antiabortion laws. Political leaders in Ireland have been only too willing to bow to the dictates of a conservative Catholic hierarchy which has meant that abortions are all but impossible to access in Irish hospitals, for any reason. It’s time to recognize that the bishops don’t speak for the Irish people, Catholic or non-Catholic, who know women need access to comprehensive healthcare, and that includes abortion.”

The three women who brought this case had very different reasons for needing an abortion, but they represent the thousands of Irish women who travel every year from Ireland to the United Kingdom and elsewhere to obtain a safe, legal abortion, which is unavailable to them in Ireland. Irish law allows abortion only when there is a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the woman.

Catholics believe that the church’s teaching on the primacy of conscience means that every individual must follow his or her own conscience—and respect the rights of others to do the same. As such, we believe that women should have access to abortion when they need it, and when, in consultation with their doctors, it can be performed safely. We therefore affirm that the moral capacity and the human right to make choices about whether and when to become pregnant or to end a pregnancy are supported by church teachings.

The Court of Human Rights’ ruling is the first step in changing Irish abortion restrictions. Because Ireland is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Irish government is obligated to remedy any human rights violations found by the court. This ruling is a success for all Irish women, who also deserve, as the plaintiffs in this case argued, “the right to life” and ” respect for family and private life.”

[Background Notes for Editors]

The European Court of Human Rights is the last resort for victims of human rights violations in Europe. The unnamed women in A. B. and C. v. Ireland sought abortions for various reasons: One was undergoing cancer check-ups that may have harmed the fetus, and carrying the pregnancy to term increased the chance of her cancer returning. One felt ill prepared to become a single mother. The third woman had children in foster care, and believed having another child would jeopardize her chances of reuniting her family.