Groups criticise state response to abortion ruling

THE Government’s failure to introduce legislation on abortion following a ruling from the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has been severely criticised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Family Planning Association.

The court gave the state six months to take action after it ruled a Lithuanian woman with cancer should have been able to have an abortion in Ireland since her life was at risk.

The Government told the court it intends to set up an expert group of medical and legal professionals to recommend how to deal with the issue.

It will be established by November and the membership, terms of reference and meeting schedule will be available at the end of the year.

This will be the fourth committee set up in Ireland to make recommendations on abortion legislation.

The Council for Civil Liberties made a submission to the court, saying no efficient measures have been proposed to address the core problem.

“It is probably that a woman in the position of the victim in this case would be treated in exactly the same manner today, in clear violation of her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights,” said director Mark Kelly.

He described the proposal to set up an expert group as evidence of inertia, not of action and said he hopes the Government will be asked to submit a revised action plan, indicating what it will do to implement the court’s judgement.

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court last December is legally binding and asked that the state bring in legislation outlined by the Irish Supreme Court in the X Case in 1992.

The reaction was criticised as “showing a clear lack of leadership” by the Family Planning Association, which supported the three women who took their cases to the court.

IFPA chief executive Niall Behan said the state had ignored the court’s concerns.

“The establishment of an expert group is unnecessary and represents a considered avoidance by the state of its duty to execute the judgment.”

He said the court has criticised the state for failing to act on recommendations of three committees that have considered Ireland’s regulation of abortion.

“Every day the Irish state fails to reform its restrictive abortion laws, it is violating the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and showing a complete disregard for Irish women’s constitutional rights,” he said.

The court heard that while a woman whose life was at risk could legally have an abortion in Ireland, in reality no doctor would risk performing one as the legal situation was not clear.

The case was taken by three women who travelled abroad for abortions because they could not get an abortion in Ireland. They argued that their health and wellbeing was jeopardised by the criminalisation of abortion. The court found there was a case to answer in the experience of one of the three women.

A statement from the Department of Health, which is responsible for implementing the court’s decision, said it had submitted its action plan in June as required and was carrying out preliminary work to establish the expert group.

“As set out in the action plan, it is intended that the expert group will be set up by November 2011.”

The decision of the meeting in Strasbourg should be made public shortly, a spokesperson said.

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