Miss C's landmark court win to make limited abortion legal
Published 17/12/2010 | 05:00
THE Government last night finally conceded it will have to legalise abortion in limited circumstances after a woman with a rare form of cancer won her legal battle at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Almost 20 years after the infamous X case, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that a Lithuanian woman who travelled out of Ireland to terminate a pregnancy, while in remission from cancer, had her human rights violated.
She was one of three unnamed women fighting a landmark legal battle to overturn Ireland's restrictive abortion laws.
The woman claimed her life had been put at risk by being forced to travel to England for the procedure.
Yesterday, the ECHR, which convened a full 17-judge grand chamber to hear the case, ruled that Ireland breached the woman's right to respect for her private life as it had failed to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion.
It found that the woman, who feared her cancer would relapse as a result of her pregnancy, had no "effective or accessible procedure" to establish her right to a legal abortion.
The judges ruled that the only non-judicial means for determining the risk she was facing was a doctor's opinion, which they said was ineffective.
The woman, known as Miss C, was awarded €15,000 in damages, but the other two applicants' cases failed.
Last night, the Irish Family Planning Association, which supported the three women, said the Government could no longer ignore the imperative to legislate for abortion where women's lives were at risk.
"For decades, the State has ignored its legal responsibility and has turned a blind eye to protecting the life and health of women in such dire circumstances," said Julie F Kay, lead legal counsel for the women.
"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."
But Taoiseach Brian Cowen, refused to be drawn on what action would have to take on foot of the ruling, which had raised "difficult issues".
"I don't think we can jump to any quick conclusion. Clearly, it's an issue for everyone to consider what the legal implications are," he said.
The women, known only as A, B and C, took a case against the Government claiming restrictions on abortion stigmatised them and risked damaging their health.
The judges unanimously ruled that the first two women's rights were not violated.
But last night the head of the Catholic Church insisted there was no obligation on the Government to introduce legislation allowing for limited abortion in Ireland.
Cardinal Sean Brady said the judgment leaves future policy in Ireland on protecting unborn children in the hands of the Irish people.
But he acknowledged the judgment raised "profound moral and legal issues which will require careful analysis and reflection by the Catholic bishops".
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