Irish women wait for ruling on abortion law challenge

The Irish Family Planning Association was accused of “scaremongering” today for supporting a legal challenge by three women opposing Ireland’s abortion laws.

The Pro-Life Campaign rejected claims during a landmark court hearing that the lack of induced abortion in Ireland was putting women’s lives at risk.

Lawyers for three women living in Ireland – named in court only as “A, B, and C” – told the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that forcing pregnant women to travel abroad for abortions could endanger “health and wellbeing” as safeguarded by the Human Rights Convention.

The Irish Family Planning Association and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service back the case which could overturn Ireland’s sovereign right to protect unconditionally “the life of the unborn”.

But after the one-day hearing, Dr Berry Kiely of the Pro-Life Campaign said: “The IFPA knows full well that pregnant women in Ireland receive essential medical treatment. Any statement to the contrary is without foundation in fact and is tantamount to scaremongering.

“They know, too, that Ireland is a world leader in maternal safety in pregnancy.”

Lawyers for the Government argued that the European Human Rights Convention, to which Ireland is a signatory, could not be interpreted as endorsing the right to abortion. They also insisted that, despite the abortion ban, Ireland does supply post-abortion care and counselling.

Dr Kiely said: “If the IFPA were genuinely concerned about women’s health and wellbeing, they would be offering reassurance that essential treatment is already provided here rather than setting out to foster a false picture of Ireland as a place where the absence of induced abortion puts lives at risk.

“Ultimately this debate is about the kind of society we want and whether or not we believe pregnant women and their unborn children should be welcomed in life, protected in law and given the best medical treatment to protect their mental and physical health and wellbeing.

“The IFPA may well couch its arguments in human rights language but in reality it seeks to deny the first and most important human right, the right to life.”

The women at the centre of the legal challenge say being forced to leave Ireland to terminate their pregnancies not only risked their health but caused hardship and unnecessary costs.

The legal action began in 2005 when they complained that the pro-life Irish law breached Human Right Convention guarantees of the “right to respect for private and family life”, their “right to life”, the “prohibition of discrimination” and “prohibition of torture”.

The three will have to wait until next year for a ruling after today’s hearing - but if they win their case, Irish abortion law may have to be adjusted to take account of the health and wellbeing of pregnant women.

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