Split decision on Irish abortion law: Court finds human rights violation only if woman’s life is endangered

by on December 16, 2010  •  In Health, Reproductive rights

The European Court of Human Rights issued its decision this morning in A, B, and C v. Ireland (background here), finding that the third plaintiff C's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights were violated because she was forced to travel to the UK to secure an abortion even though the pregnancy, combined with her ongoing cancer, endangered her life. However, the Court denied the plaintiffs B's and C's arguments that a risk to their health – as distinct from a risk to life – required allowance of an abortion.

Ireland prohibits abortion under an 1861 law that carries life imprisonment as the maximum penalty. A 1983 referendum amended the national constitution to recognize the unborn child as an Irish citizen with full rights. A 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision held that abortion is legal if there is a real and substantial risk to the woman's health from the pregnancy. The national Parliament, however, has never enacted laws to effectuate that decision, and the Grand Chamber Human Rights Court decision noted that for procedural reasons, Irish courts do not offer a venue in which women can seek orders granting a legal abortion. About 5,500 Irish women travel to England and Wales every year to obtain an abortion.

The rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are binding on nations. According to The Guardian, "It is understood that the judgment is being considered by the [Irish] Republic's department of health and the Irish attorney general."

In today's decision, the court said that it "considered that the establishment of a risk to [C's] life clearly concerned fundamental values and essential aspects of her right to respect for her private life," a right protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court found that it had been violated by the Irish government's failure to implement the decision of its supreme court.

Congratulations to lead counsel (and my former student) Julie Kay -


One Response to Split decision on Irish abortion law: Court finds human rights violation only if woman’s life is endangered

  1. daftpunkydavid December 18, 2010 at 6:57 AM

    it’s got to be one of a professor’s proudest moments to witness a student’s professional success; congrats!

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