DUBLIN, January 6, 2011 ( – In light of a recent mixed ruling from the European Court of Human rights on Ireland’s pro-life laws, the Irish Medical Council (IMC) has reiterated that abortion is not a legal medical practice in Ireland.

At the same time, the IMC has made it clear that in Ireland a woman with a life-threatening condition, such as an ectopic pregnancy, may receive medical treatment to save her life. Pro-abortion organizations and politicians have been attempting to portray the Irish abortion ban as a restriction on such medical interventions, and are using the Court’s ruling as a pretext to push for legalization.

While the European Court had found that there exists no “right” to abortion under the European Convention of Human Rights, it decided in favor of one of the three women who had brought suit against Ireland’s pro-life laws. That woman was in remission from cancer at the time she sought an abortion; she said that the pregnancy threatened her life, and that Ireland’s pro-life laws had prevented her from being told her medical options.

The Court agreed, claiming that the Irish Constitution gives women a “right” to abortion in certain circumstances under its protection of the equal right to life of the mother of an unborn child. The Court instructed the Irish government to issue guidance to allow doctors to inform women in what circumstances abortion is a legal option, and to pay the woman €15,000.

According to the IMC, under the law as it is currently worded, medical practitioners must undertake a full assessment of whether there exists a “real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother.” This includes, as in the famous 1992 “X Case,” a “clear and substantial risk to the life of the mother arising from a threat of suicide.”

Additionally, doctors may provide information on abortions abroad (normally the UK) but must not in any way “encourage or advocate” for abortion in an individual case.

The Council makes clear the distinction between direct abortion and a medical intervention that saves the mother’s life and, as a secondary, but unintended effect, brings about the death of the child. The Council said that “rare complications can arise” in pregnancy in which “therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving.”

“In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby,” the Council stated.

Liam Gibson, office for Northern Ireland for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) who has been closely following the court case, told LSN that this distinction is crucial.

Heavily pro-abortion Irish Health minister Mary Harney had said following the ruling that the government would be “seeking legal advice” on whether to create legislation allowing abortion. Harney told media that the Court judgment was “binding” on Ireland and that the government would have to produce proposals to reflect it.

Labour Party health spokesman Jan O’Sullivan said that legislation must now be introduced to provide for “the right to the termination of a pregnancy” in the very limited circumstances specified in the judgment. O’Sullivan said the absence of legislation providing for abortion in circumstances where the mother’s life was at risk left those with crisis pregnancies and doctors in an “impossible position.”

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said on Tuesday that the Irish parliament must implement legal abortion “where the life or health of the mother is at risk.” The Labour party’s position is that the permission for abortion must be expanded to include the woman’s “health.”

Gilmore told RTÉ, Ireland’s public radio broadcaster, “The court was very clear that Ireland was out of kilter [in terms of] human rights. I appreciate that it’s a difficult issue and it causes a great deal of division.”

But Liam Gibson said that the Labour party has been one of the powers behind the push to get abortion legalized through the ABC case all along, “so the response of the Labour leader is entirely predictable.”

“His comments are … based on an ideological commitment to abortion on demand and simply ignore the actual ruling.”

The court, he said, “in fact rejected claims that Ireland’s prohibition of abortion on grounds of health was a breach of human rights.”

“Instead it stated that Irish law ‘struck a fair balance’ between the mother’s right to respect for her private live and the rights invoked on behalf of the unborn. There was no recommendation for Irish law to permit abortion on so-called health grounds.”

Gibson said that the pretext of the ECHR ruling is important for abortion advocates in government because it could allow a change in law without a referendum.

“The reason abortion advocates hope to avoid a referendum is because the Irish people have already voted on three separate occasions to protect the right to life of unborn children. And it this lack of public support for liberal abortion which forced to the Irish Family Planning Association to resort to the Courts outside Ireland.”

He warned that if a referendum is promised to change the constitution, pro-life people must insist that the wording include protections for all unborn children “regardless of the circumstances of their conception.”


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