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Europe

Human rights court slams Ireland on abortion case

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Irish abortion laws violated the rights of one of three women who sought terminations in Britain. The woman who won her case was in remission from a rare from of cancer.

Woman getting advice on what to do

Every year hundreds of Irish women seek terminations in England

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Ireland in the case of a cancer sufferer who had been unable to terminate her pregnancy in Ireland. She feared the pregnancy could trigger a relapse of her cancer, which was in remission at the time. She was forced to travel to Britain, where abortion laws are more liberal, to terminate the pregnancy.

The court found Ireland had not respected the privacy and family rights of the woman. The predominantly Catholic country has some of the toughest abortion laws in Europe. Women can only terminate their pregnancies if their own life is in danger.

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg,

The court in Strasbourg ordered Ireland to pay damages to the woman

The court in Strasbourg ordered Ireland to pay 15,000 euros ($19,800) in damages to the woman.

"The court concluded that neither the medical consultation nor litigation options, relied on by the Irish government, constituted effective and accessible procedures which allowed [her] to establish her right to a lawful abortion in Ireland," the ruling stated.

The ruling may force the Dublin government to bring in new guidelines on abortion.

Cases brought by two other women rejected

Meanwhile, the court rejected appeals by two other Irish women who had also traveled to Britain in 2005, seeking abortions.

One was an unemployed former alcoholic who was suffering from depression and trying to recover custody of her four other children when she became pregnant.

The other did not want to become a single parent, and feared she would have an ectopic pregnancy.

Pregnant woman with ultrasound picture

Irish laws state a woman can only get an abortion if her life is at risk

They complained that Irish restriction on abortion had humiliated them, and put their health at risk.

However, in these two cases, the judges ruled against the women, and did not challenge the Irish ban.

The abortion ban is legal and "pursued the legitimate aim of protecting public morals as understood in Ireland,” the verdict read.

Clarity needed

The issue of abortion rights in Ireland was reopened by the so-called "X" case in 1992, when Ireland's Supreme Court overturned a ruling stopping a girl of 14 who had been raped from having an abortion. That prompted reforms including the right to information and the right to travel outside Ireland for an abortion.

Between 1980 and 2009 at least 142,060 women living in Ireland sought abortions in England and Wales, a short ferry ride from Ireland, according to the Irish Family Planning Association.

Poland has similarly strict abortion laws. Pro-choice campaigners estimate that many terminations are performed underground, sometimes in poor conditions.

Spain has changed its law, making it easier for women to have abortions, although some conservative regions have barred their hospitals from performing them.

Meanwhile, Andorra, Malta and San Marino prohibit abortions even if the mother's life is at risk.

Author: Joanna Impey (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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