Abortion Laws In Ireland – Examiner reports

State forced to clarify abortion laws
By Juno McEnroe and Ann Cahill
Friday, December 17, 2010
NEW laws making it clear when abortion is legal in Ireland will have to be introduced following a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
The court found the rights of a woman with a rare form of cancer, who travelled from Ireland to Britain for an abortion, had been violated.

Known only as ‘C’ the woman, a Lithuanian, said she could not get clear advice in Ireland and the country’s limited ban stigmatised and humiliated her and put her health at risk.

The judgment also stated it was unclear how Irish courts would enforce a mandatory order for a doctor to carry out an abortion, given the lack of information given to the European court by the Government regarding lawful abortions carried out in Ireland.

The court also pointed out that there had been no explanation as to why the existing constitutional right to an abortion had not been implemented to date.

The court found the rights of two other Irish women who had taken cases had not been violated.

Health Minister Mary Harney denied the country will be thrown into a contentious fourth referendum, 27 years after the first, following yesterday’s decision, but admitted legislation will have to be introduced: “I don’t want to pretend that there is an easy solution. We have to legislate, there’s no doubt about that.”

No deadline for enforcing new abortion laws has been set by the court. However, Ms Harney insisted it would take months. She dismissed suggestions she was putting the divisive issue on the long finger.

Successive governments have resisted drawing up legislation despite a 1992 judgment from the Supreme Court that ruled abortions can be provided in cases where a woman’s life is endangered — including, controversially, by her own threats to commit suicide.

There have been three referenda on abortion law:

* 1983: Affirming an outright ban.

* 1992: Allowing women to legally travel for a termination and access information while maintaining the domestic ban.

* 2002: When by a margin of less than 1% of the vote, the ban was upheld.

However, a series of court judgments complicated issues, such as the X case involving a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped. She was allowed to travel because of the real and substantial risk to her life from suicide.

Ms Harney has admitted lawmakers would face a “highly sensitive and complex” debate over what specific definitions should apply for life-threatening conditions. She said pregnant women suffering from cervical cancer, exceptionally high blood pressure or ectopic pregnancies already were receiving abortions in Irish hospitals.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he had not yet been advised on the judgment.

“My initial reaction is that it raises issues. We need now to consider this very carefully. It is a very important issue to consider.”

Julie Kay, lead legal counsel for the women, said for decades the state has ignored its legal responsibility to protect the life and health of women in such dire circumstances.

“No other woman in a life-threatening situation should be forced to endure the uncertainty, humiliation and distress that applicant C in the European Court of Human Rights case did when faced with a threat to her life and health.”
This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, December 17, 2010

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