Three Women Challenge Ireland’s Pro-Life Abortion Laws in European Court

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

STRASBOURG, April 22, 2009 ( – Three anonymous women who filed a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against the Irish government’s ban on abortion, may soon have their day in court.

The human rights court is reportedly poised to make a judgment on the admissibility and merits of the case.

According to the Irish Family Planning Association, which is representing the women known only as A, B and C, Ireland’s pro-life abortion laws contravene the European Convention on Human Rights, which is incorporated into Irish law. Traveling abroad to have their unborn children killed, says the organization, placed “enormous physical, emotional and financial burdens” upon the three women, and “interfered with the most intimate aspects of their private and family lives without adequate justification.”

The women also claim that post-abortion medical follow-up was difficult to obtain upon their return to Ireland.

The Irish government, however, is standing firmly behind the law and contends that domestic legal remedies for their particular situations had not been attempted by the women and that there had been no breach in human rights, as protected under the European Convention.

“It does not appear that any of the applicants took legal advice from an Irish barrister or solicitors as to the prospect of success in any legal proceedings instituted by them,” the government’s submission says. Since claims made by the applicants had not been tested in any Irish court, the government argues, the application for a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights should be declared inadmissible.

The Irish government submission questions the validity of the factual claims made by the applicants, due to their decision to bypass the Irish courts.

“Significant issues of fact are left unascertained and the Court is to a significant extent being asked to make rulings of law on the basis of untested assertion.”

“This is, self-evidently, highly unsatisfactory and – it is submitted – properly impermissible.”

The Irish government also insists that the European Convention on Human Rights does not confer even a limited right to abortion and it would be “inconceivable” that member states would have to agree to this.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland ratified in 1992, acknowledges that “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”

The Irish government’s submission also details how previous rulings from the human rights court demonstrate that there is no human right to abortion and that individual nations are entitled to grant full legal protection to the child in the womb.

In 2004 the Court of Human Rights recognized that a human embryo belonged to the human race, and in the following year, in another abortion case before the human rights court, lawyers for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) expressed the hope that this recognition would convince the Court that belonging to the human race was the basis of human rights.

The Irish Times reports that groups which are supporting the Irish government’s restrictions on abortion at the Strasbourg hearings include the Pro-Life Campaign, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, the European Centre for Law and Justice – on behalf of Kathy Sinnott MEP – and the Alliance Defense Fund.

Those supporting the three women are the British Pregnancy Advisory Services, Doctors for Choice and the US-based Center for Reproductive Rights.


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