December 16, 2010
Ireland's Abortion Criminalization at the European Court of Human Rights
In a lengthy decision today, the European Court of Human Rights (the Grand Chamber) held Ireland's criminalization of abortion contravened the European Convention on Human Rights as to one of the three women litigants.
Central to the decision in Case of A, B, and C v. Ireland, is Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights:
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The challengers, A, B, and C, all residents of Ireland who traveled to the United Kingdom to obtain an abortion because of the criminalization of abortion in Ireland, argued that their rights under Article 8 were violated.
Each of the women has sympathetic circumstances. Challenger A was impoverished, suffering from depression and recovering from alcoholism, has four children in foster care with whom she is struggling to be reunited. Challenger B was single and feared an ectopic pregnancy. Challenger C was in remission from cancer, and feared both a relapse and that certain treatments may have caused damage to the fetus.
The Court found Article 8 was contravened only with regard to Challenger C. Ireland's violation was a failure to implement its existing constitutional right to an abortion when the pregnant woman's life was at stake.
The decision is thus a narrow one and certainly does not invalidate Ireland's abortion ban.
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