Thursday, December 10, 2009

Belfast Telegraph: Republic of Ireland defends its strict abortion laws

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Irish government has robustly defended the Republic's restrictive abortion laws before the European Court of Human Rights.

Yesterday Attorney General Paul Gallagher SC told the court's 17-judge Grand Chamber in Strasbourg that a landmark challenge by three women was a "significant attack" on the Irish health system, its treatment advice and support. The women — known as A, B and C — claim their health and human rights were violated because they had to travel to Britain to terminate their pregnancies.

However, Mr Gallagher said that the case by the women was an attempt to make Ireland's abortion laws more liberal — like they are in other European countries.

"The right to life of the unborn is based on profound moral values deeply embedded in the fabric of Irish society," he told the court, including Irish High Court Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan.

If the abortion case succeeds, it could lead to abortion being made available here in certain circumstances. The court may dictate the minimum degree of protection to which a woman seeking an abortion to safeguard her health and wellbeing is entitled.

Mr Gallagher said that Ireland's protection of the right to life of the unborn had been endorsed in three referenda and was explicitly recognised in a protocol attached to the Maastricht Treaty. Ireland had also secured a relevant legal guarantee as part of the re-run of the Lisbon Treaty.

Defending the government's record, Mr Gallagher said that it "had not let matters rest" since the infamous X case in 1992 — when a court banned a pregnant 14-year-old rape victim from travelling abroad to have an abortion. That restriction was later lifted.

Lawyers acting for the three women, who did not attend yesterday's hearing, said the trio were forced to travel for "clandestine abortions" abroad, and were forced to borrow money to pay for the procedures. Julie Kay, lead counsel for the women, said this conflicted with the minimum protection afforded under Article 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.