EU: Forthcoming Grand Chamber judgment on abortion

The following is a press release issued by the Registrar of the Court for the The European Court of Human Rights. It concerns a decision being issued tomorrow that has important privacy implications for women in the European Union:

The European Court of Human Rights will be delivering a Grand Chamber judgment in the case of A. B. and C. v. Ireland (application no. 25579/05) at a public hearing on Thursday 16 December 2010 at 11 a.m. – local time – in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg.

The case concerns the restrictions on obtaining an abortion in Ireland.

The applicants are three women who live in Ireland: two are Irish nationals and one is a Lithuanian national.

All three applicants travelled to the UK to have an abortion after becoming pregnant unintentionally.

The first applicant, a former alcoholic whose four children had been placed in foster care, decided to have an abortion to avoid jeopardising her chances of reuniting her family. She paid for the abortion in a private clinic in the UK by borrowing money from a money lender.

The second applicant was not prepared to become a single parent. While initially she feared an ectopic pregnancy, she was aware that it was not prior to travelling to the UK for an abortion.

The third applicant, in remission from cancer and unaware that she was pregnant, underwent a series of check ups contraindicated during pregnancy. She also understood that there was a risk that her pregnancy would cause a relapse of the cancer. She was unclear and concerned about the risks to her health and life and to the foetus if she continued to term and claimed she could not obtain clear advice. She therefore decided to have an abortion in the UK.

On their return to Ireland the applicants claim they experienced medical complications.

All three women complain that the impossibility for them to have an abortion in Ireland made the procedure unnecessarily expensive, complicated and traumatic. In particular, that restriction stigmatised and humiliated them and risked damaging their health and, in the third applicant’s case, even her life. They rely on Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman and or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights. They all also complain, under Article 8 (right to respect for family and private life) of the Convention, that the national law on abortion was not sufficiently clear and precise, since the Constitutional term “unborn” was vague and the criminal prohibition on abortion was open to different interpretations. The fact that women – provided they had sufficient resources – could travel outside Ireland to have an abortion defeated the aim of the restriction and the fact that abortion was available in Ireland only in very limited circumstances was disproportionate and excessive. Furthermore, the restriction placed an excessive burden on the applicants as women, in breach of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), and particularly on the first applicant, whose financial means were extremely limited.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 15 July 2005.

The Chamber to which the case was assigned relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber on 7 July 2009. A Grand Chamber hearing took place in public in the Human Rights Building in Strasbourg on 9 December 2009. Numerous third parties have submitted written observations: the Lithuanian Governement (one of the applicants being Lithuanian); the European Centre for Law and Justice in association with Kathy Sinnott (Member of the European Parliament); the Family Research Council (Washington D.C.) and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (London); the Pro-Life Campaign; Doctors for Choice (Ireland) and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service; and, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Programme.

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