Three women take Ireland to court over right to abort
The women all left their homes in Ireland to have abortions in Britain after becoming unintentionally pregnant.Strasbourg -- Three women brought their case against Ireland's strict abortion law to the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday, saying the Catholic country's legislation violates their rights.
The women -- two Irish and a Lithuanian -- all left their homes in Ireland to have abortions in Britain after becoming unintentionally pregnant.
The women are unnamed as Ireland's abortion law, which dates back to 1861, bans the procedure except where there is a real risk to the life of the mother, including suicide.
Their lawyer, Julie Kay, said that anyone aborting in Ireland "is legally bound to life in prison, an horrific perspective... there is then an obligation to protect their identity in order to protect them and their rights."
She said that the large number of women travelling to Britain for abortions -- around 6,000 a year -- showed the inefficacy of Irish law, while noting that the operation was accessible only to women who could afford it.
One of the women is a former alcoholic whose four children were placed in foster care and who wanted an abortion to avoid jeopardising her chances of reuniting her family. She borrowed from a moneylender to pay for the abortion.
Another women "was not prepared to become a single parent," court documents said, while the third, a Lithuanian, became pregnant while in remission from cancer.
She understood the pregnancy might cause a relapse of the cancer and decided to have an abortion, as she was "unclear and concerned about the risks to her health and life and to the foetus if she continued to term."
The women, who all experienced medical complications on their return to Ireland, said that the impossibility of aborting in Ireland made the procedure unnecessarily expensive, complicated and traumatic.
"The restriction stigmatised and humiliated them and risked damaging their health and, in the third applicant's case, even her life," their lawyer said.
While the Irish constitution gives mother and unborn child equal rights, "it is not known when life begins... philosophers, medical personnel and governments may differ on the question," Kay said.
Irish law violates several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to life, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to respect for family and private life, and, by placing an excessive burden on women, the prohibition of discrimination, Kay said.
Representing the Irish government, Attorney General Paul Gallagher said Irish abortion legislation was "based on profound moral values," including the right to life.
The court will give its much-anticipated decision on the case in the coming months.
Along with Malta and Poland, Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, with doctors very rarely authorising the procedure because the mother's life is in danger.
Ireland's judges have repeatedly called on politicians to legislate on abortion and update the 1861 law but they have shied away from doing so.