17th May 2022

Human rights court slams Irish abortion law

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Ireland failed to implement a woman's constitutional right to an abortion where her life was in danger and ordered Dublin to pay damages and alter its law - a move which may have wider implications on the country's tense relationship with the EU.

The Strasbourg-based court found that Ireland had not respected the constitutional rights of a Lithuanian woman, who wanted to have an abortion because of her cancer, but could not find any Irish doctor to take on that responsibility.

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  • Abortion is still banned in Ireland, Malta and Poland (Photo: kton25)

"Moreover, there was no explanation why the existing constitution right had not been implemented to date," the judges said.

Under the legally binding ruling, Dublin will have to pay the woman €15,000 in damages and alter its legislation to accommodate similar cases in the future.

The cases of two other women, one risking pregnancy complications and the other - a former drug addict who feared that her unplanned pregnancy would jeopardise her chances to get custody over her other children - were dismissed. All three had to travel to the UK in 2005 to terminate their pregnancies and claimed they suffered from complications after that.

The Strasbourg court found that going overseas put psychological burdens on them, but it also gave Irish doctors the credit for being able to give advice and treatment before and after the abortion.

Pro-life campaigners in Ireland are already lobbying the government not to give into pressure from the Strasbourg court - which is not an EU body, but whose rulings are in general followed by the EU court of justice.

A second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty - following an initial rejection of the document - was made possible only under guarantee that the EU will not interfere with the island's pro-life legislation. Abortion and taxation were two key topics raised by the no-campaigners against the Lisbon Treaty.

"Irish people will be tired to be pushed around like this. After being forced to have a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, after the EU bailout, now this - to have a foreign court trying to have us recede more sovereignty on the abortion issue," Niamh Ui Bhriain from the Dublin-based Life Institute, a lobby group, told this website.

Ms Bhriain linked the anger sparked by the EU bailout, which critics say involves giving up sovereignty on fiscal matters, to the potential change in abortion law - a temptation the Irish government should resist.

"The Strasbourg court would like us to recede more sovereignty. But our constitution states clearly that people are sovereign and it is simply not true that there is a constitutional right to have an abortion [in case of life-threatening condition]," she argued.

On the other hand, EU experts warn against linking the Strasbourg verdict to any EU-related issues Ireland may have.

"These are two separate issues: one is the EU, where Ireland got the guarantees [on social law, related to the Lisbon Treaty] and the other one is the Council of Europe, where Ireland has been a member for many years, with the respective Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, who is also ruling on countries like Russia, Turkey and Ukraine," Piotr Kaczynski from the Centre for European Policy Studies told EUobserver.

Linking the two would be "a serious mistake" and "pure populism," he argued.

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