Thursday, December 10, 2009

European Court of Human Rights Press Release: ABC v Ireland

Press release issued by the Registrar


The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing today Wednesday 9 December 2009 at 9.15 a.m., on the admissibility and merits in the case of A. B. and C. v. Ireland (application no. 25579/05).

The hearing will be broadcast from 2.30 p.m. on the Court’s Internet site (

The applicants

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

Summary of the facts

The case concerns their complaints about restriction on obtaining an abortion in Ireland.

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 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. On 7 July 2009 the Chamber relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber.

Composition of the Court

The case will be heard by the Grand Chamber composed as follows:

Jean-Paul Costa (France), President,
Christos Rozakis (Greece),
Nicolas Bratza (the United Kingdom),
Françoise Tulkens (Belgium),
Josep Casadevall (Andorra),
Giovanni Bonello (Malta)
Corneliu Bîrsan (Romania),
Karel Jungwiert (the Czech Republic),
Elisabet Fura (Sweden),
Alvina Gyulumyan (Armenia),
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijan),
Egbert Myjer (the Netherlands),
Giorgio Malinverni (Switzerland),
George Nicolaou (Cyprus),
Luis López Guerra (Spain),
Mihai Poalelungi (Moldova), judges,
Mary Finlay Geoghegan (Ireland), ad hoc judge,
Päivi Hirvelä (Finland),
Sverre Erik Jebens (Norway),
Ján Šikuta (Slovakia), substitute judges,

and also Johan Callewaert, Deputy Grand Chamber Registrar.

Representatives of the parties

Government: Peter White, Co-Agent,

Paul Gallagher, Attorney-General,

Donal O’Donnell, Brian Murray, Senior Counsel,

Christine O’Rourke, Geraldine Luddy, Sarah Farrell, Bernadette McDonnell, Advisers;

Applicants: Julie F. Kay, Counsel, Carmel Stewart, Senior Counsel.


After the hearing the Court will begin its deliberations, which are held in private. A decision on admissibility, followed if appropriate by a judgment, will be delivered at a later date.1

The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

1 This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.