European court hearing on lack of access to abortion in Ireland says government has violated rights, failed to legislate for the X-case


The European Court of Human Rights has ruled on the ABC case finding in favor of one of the three women who brought the cases and has said that the government has failed to legislate for abortion under the X case.  The court found that the government had violated the rights of the woman who had a rare form of cancer and who had to travel to Britain for an abortion. This puts pressure on the government to legislate for abortion under the conditions of the 1992 “X” case.  In the aftermath of massive street protests against the de facto internment of a 14 year old rape victim ('X') to prevent her traveling to Britain for an abortion the Supreme Court was forced to allow X to travel and ruled that terminating a pregnancy is lawful where the life of a mother is at risk.

The Irish Government argued that Ireland's anti-choice law are based on "profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society" but the reality is that although the state has repeatedly tried to overturn the X case judgement by referendum the Irish people have voted against these attempts. [Read more on the referendums]

The Republic of Ireland has one of the most draconian abortion laws in the world. At present abortion may only be performed where continuation of pregnancy poses a 'real and substantial' risk to a pregnant woman's life - about 5 cases per year of 50,000 pregnancies. In reality a woman must be dying before a lifesaving abortion can be performed. [Read more at Repressing Abortion in Ireland - a doctor speaks out]

The three women, known as A, B and C, challenged Ireland’s ban on abortion in the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that the law jeopardised their health and their well being and that travelling abroad for an abortion placed "enormous physical, emotional and financial burdens" upon them. Because the law created delays and hardships for each woman, it resulted in each of them having a later abortion, creating a greater risk to their health.  The 'Irish solution' of abortion in Britain under which around 6,000 women travel every year was argued to be "expensive, complicated and traumatic."  Last year the Irish customs seized 1200 deliveries of medicines that can provide a self induced abortion. [Read more at Customs seize 1200 deliveries of abortion drugs for desperate women ]

All three women were forced to travel to Britain for an abortion because abortion is unavailable in Ireland in almost all circumstances. One of the three had been warned she ran the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. The second had undergone chemotherapy for cancer treatment and was unable to find a doctor willing to tell her if her life would be at risk if she continued to term or how the treatment might have effected the fetus. The third woman was an unemployed alcoholic living in poverty whose four children had been placed in foster care.

The court found in favor of the case brought by the second woman because of the threat to her life from being unable to access an abortion in Ireland.  It did not rule in favor of the other two women whose cases had been brought because of the threat to their health the lack of provision represented.  Choice Ireland spokesperson Sinéad Ahern said, “It is disappointing that no violation was found in respect of two of the applicants. However, the court’s judgment is critical of the Irish regime in many respects and clearly demonstrates that Irish law is out of step with much of the rest of Europe. We welcome the dissenting opinions in favour of the two other women, as well as the absence of any dissenting opinion against the successful applicant."

The court pointed out that no explanation had been offered for why the government had failed to legislate for the existing Constitutional right to an abortion established by the X-case that the government had repeatedly failed to have overturned in referendums. And that the courts "were not appropriate for the primary determination of whether a woman qualified for an abortion."

Dr Mary Favier spokesperson for Doctors For Choice said ‘The health of women resident in Ireland is being compromised by the persistent refusal of successive Irish governments to legislate for abortion provision in Ireland. Abortion is a mainstream gynaecological procedure: indeed it is the most common gynaecological procedure Irish women undergo. Thankfully, many women should now no longer need to travel to access this procedure abroad, with all the financial, social and health risks that poses. 

The women had been supported by the Irish Family Planning Association. Speaking ahead of the judgement Niall Behan, Chief Executive of the IFPA said: “The experiences of the three applicants are illustrative of the reality faced by thousands of women in Ireland. Since 1980 at least 140,000 women have been forced to travel to the UK to access safe abortion services. Clients attending for counselling with the IFPA continually express anger and frustration that they have to travel outside of the jurisdiction for health services they feel should be available to them at home.”

Anti-Choice, anti woman organisations have spent a huge amount of money on advertising campaigns in advance of this decision from the ECHR.  Back in June we reported on Youth Defence’s cynical Facebook ad campaign which Sinéad Ahern of Choice Ireland had described as "a pre-emptive strike against a ruling that Youth Defence expect to go against them. That they felt the need to take such a step demonstrates the strength of the case the three women have made against the Irish state."  Last month Youth Defense had rented advertising hoardings all over the country to push their anti-choice poison.

Today's ruling means that the government is now under renewed pressure to finally legislate for the x-case judgement which would allow access to abortion for women whose lives are at risk.  There are several negatives however about the court ruling, in particular the seeming acceptance of the government lie that there is "popular support for the prohibition of abortion within Ireland" based on a major misreading of the initial rejection of the Lisbon treaty as being due to anti-choice arguments.  The WSM was one of the organisations campaigning against the treaty and our detailed analysis of the outcome of the campaign suggested that above all else it was class politics that determined that outcome as workers voted against a treaty they correctly saw as operating in the interests of European capitalism rather than theirs. [Read the WSM Lisbon analysis]

The Workers Solidarity Movement believes in real options and real choices for women. A woman who wants to have a child shouldn't have to spend the rest of her life looking after it. This is why we favour the option of full child-care provision paid for by the state, maternity leave and flexi-time for working, public creche facilities and restaurants. The present role of many women as full-time unpaid childminders within the family must be ended.

A woman who finds herself pregnant and does not wish to remain so should have a right to free, safe abortion on demand. This is not an abstract political slogan, we don't go around shouting "free abortion on demand" in the belief that it can only be gained in the context of a socialist revolution. We believe that it is merely one of the basic first steps in freeing women from the constraints placed on us by capitalism. [Read the WSM policy on Abortion rights]

WORDS: Andrew

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