Thursday 25 September 2008

European Court of Human Rights and the international campaign to legalize abortion in Ireland

Earlier this month I referred to the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) ruling in the case of Tysiac v Poland and the danger of a human right to abortion being created. Next year the ECHR is expected to hear a case of aimed at overturning Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion. Lawyers for three women known only as A,B and C, claim that the Irish prohibition on abortion is a violation of human rights. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), along with a number of other international pro-life groups, has been given leave to intervene in the proceedings. We believe the case is inadmissible, unfounded and we will be calling on the court to throw it out.

The decision to allow the UK's SPUC, the US's Family Research Council and the European Centre for Law and Justice, based in Strasbourg, to intervene after the deadline for interventions had passed, is thought to reflect the importance the ECHR attaches to this case. Ireland’s Pro-life Campaign had previously been given permission make a submission and abortion advocates the Irish Family Planning Association and the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) are supporting the complainants.

This case has emerged at a time of mounting pressure on Ireland to legalise abortion. It's merely part of a much wider international campaign to force the Irish people to accept abortion on demand. While pro-abortion extremists in the House of Commons are determined to impose the Abortion Act on Northern Ireland against the will of the devolved Assembly, the ABC case is intended to undermine the Republic’s legal protection for unborn children. The fact that abortion advocates must resort to the courts further underlines their lack of support among the Irish people.

Liam Gibson, SPUC's Northern Ireland development officer, has been working with the Society's lawyers on the case and has sent me the following observations:

"This is not the first time the abortion lobby has tried to use the human rights court in Strasbourg to attack Ireland’s abortion ban. Two years ago, in a similar case, a woman claimed she had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment because she was unable to have an abortion in Ireland. However since she hadn’t take her case to the Irish courts before bringing it to ECHR , it was considered inadmissible. There is a good chance that this case will be dismissed for the same reason.

"Until the recent Tysiac case the ECHR had been reluctant to get involved in abortion law, insisting that it was a matter for individual states to decide. Last year, however, the court ruled that Polish law, which only allows abortions on strictly medical grounds, violated the European Convention on Human Rights on the pretext that it lacked a procedure for resolving disputes over when an abortion might be permitted. The court said ‘Once the legislature decides to allow abortion, it must not structure its legal framework in a way which would limit real possibilities to obtain it.’ (Tysiac v Poland, Application no 5410/03 para 116)

"Bringing Ireland before an international court is an attempt to intimidate the Irish people and put pressure on their government to legislate for abortion, even in very limited circumstances. This will provide the opening the international abortion lobby wants. The CRR argued in the Tysiac case that wherever abortion is legalised it must be made accessible. Legalising abortion, even in extreme cases, could result in demands for the Irish health service to put in place arrangements and procedures to facilitate abortion. Hospitals would be required to employ doctors trained and willing to perform abortions. Anyone refused abortion would have a right to appeal that decision and there would be a continual legal battle to widen the scope of the law. Doctors unwilling to approve abortions would be required to refer women to doctors who would. This is part of the strategy to use human rights agencies to create a human right to abortion.

"At present Ireland has a much better defence against the arguments of the CRR than Poland had. Ireland’s law leaves no room for doubt or disputes. Both women and unborn children have an equal right to life, abortion is only lawful when it is necessary to save the life of the mother. The lives of the three women in the ABC case were never at risk nor were they denied appropriate medical treatment. In fact according to World Health Organisation statistics Ireland has the lowest maternal death rate is in world. The death rate in the Britain, which has the most liberal abortion laws in Europe, is over three times higher.

"Even if the court ignores its own criteria for admissibility it is still unlikely that it will uphold the claims of the abortion lobby but it is important that the Irish people are not intimidated.

"In 2004 the ECHR considered the case of Vo -v- France (Application no. 53924/00 para 84). Dealing with the rights of the unborn child rather than directly with abortion it concluded that ‘the embryo/foetus belongs to the human race.’ In the belief that belonging to the human race is the basis of human rights, the people of Ireland have established within their laws and constitution legal protection for the child in the womb. The Convention on the Rights of the Child also recognises that a child needs appropriate legal protection before, as well as after birth. If the ECHR is no longer determined to avoid questions about abortion law then it must accept that everyone who belongs to the human race shares the same fundamental human right to life."