(Photo: European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, January 30, 2009/Vincent Kessler)
The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Ireland on Thursday for stopping a Lithuanian cancer sufferer from terminating a pregnancy, in a blow to the predominantly Catholic country and its tough abortion laws. In a final ruling, the rights court found Ireland had not respected the privacy and family rights of the Lithuanian woman, who was living in Ireland and feared a pregnancy could trigger a relapse of her cancer, in remission at the time.
The court, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, ordered Ireland to pay 15,000 euros ($19,840) in damages to the woman, who was forced to travel to Britain, where the laws are more liberal, to have an abortion. Terminating a pregnancy has long been a fraught issue in Ireland, where some of the toughest abortion laws in Europe allow terminations only when the mother’s life is in danger.
“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,” it said a statement on the ruling. Here is a court press release and the full text of the judgment.
Ireland’s Health Minister Mary Harney said the government would have to introduce a law clarifying when abortion is legal in Ireland. Currently, a woman can have a termination if she has cervical cancer, an ectopic pregnancy or high blood pressure. “Clearly we have to legislate there is no doubt about that,” she told national broadcaster RTE. “I think the essence of the judgment is that we have constitutional provisons and we need to give legal effect to them.” (Photo: Pro-Life Alliance poster for a referendum on abortion in Ireland, March 4, 2002/Paul McErlane)
The court rejected appeals by two other women, both Irish, who also had travelled to Britain in 2005 for abortions. One was an unemployed, former alcoholic who was suffering from depression, living in poverty and trying to recover custody of four children from foster care when she got pregnant. The other did not want to become a single parent and feared an extra-uterine pregnancy.