British Humanists criticize European ruling on abortion in Ireland

  • post Type / Members and partners
  • Date / 20 December 2010

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has reacted with disappointment to a European Court of Human Rights ruling on the abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland. The BHA has criticized the decision by the Court which, while upholding that reproductive choices are encompassed by the human right to privacy,  also found that this right could be infringed and overruled on the basis of the competing interests of wider societal views; in this case the religious beliefs of some within the Republic of Ireland.

Commenting on the case BHA head of public affairs Naomi Phillips said:

“We welcome elements of the EHRC’s verdict as an affirmation that decisions concerning whether or not to have an abortion are integral to a woman’s right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the court essentially declared that this right to a private life can be interfered with or overruled based on the opinions of others. In these cases, the opinions of the wider Irish population were held to be more important than a woman’s right to privacy. We believe this aspect of the verdict sets a particularly dangerous precedent of the Court accepting that the predominantly religious views of some override the human rights of others.

“The continual prohibition on abortion services in the Republic of Ireland has serious negative repercussions for many women for whom the continuation of a pregnancy may have a deleterious impact on their health and well being. As a result, they are faced with the painful decision of continuing with an unwanted and possibly dangerous pregnancy, seeking an unregulated and illegal termination in Ireland, or facing the heavy price of procuring an abortion abroad; mainly on the UK mainland.

“We look forward to seeing how the Irish Government will respond to EHCRC’s verdict in the case of applicant C, which indicates that Irish abortion laws require clarification, and the wider ramifications this verdict may hold for Northern Ireland,  where women are not afforded the same rights to access abortion as women in the rest of the UK.”


The three women, referred to as A, B and C, challenged the Republic of Ireland’s strict prohibition on abortion after having been forced to go to the UK in order to procure abortions.

In the cases of women A and B, the court ruled that their right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on European Rights had not been violated by the prohibition on obtaining an abortion in Ireland, as the present laws of the Irish State competing interest of upholding the values of society had been fairly balanced against their own rights.

In case C, concerning a Lithuanian national resident in Ireland, the court ruled that rights violation had occurred.  Despite landmark cases in Ireland concluding termination is permissible in cases where a woman’s life is engendered, the court found “no criteria or procedures have been subsequently laid down in Irish law, whether in legislation, case law or otherwise” by which this principal may be applied.

Additionally, earlier rulings prohibiting abortion “have never been amended so that, on their face, they remain in force with their absolute prohibition on abortion and associated serious criminal offences thereby contributing to the lack of certainty for a woman seeking a lawful abortion in Ireland”. This lack of a clear procedure by which applicant C could legally procure an abortion was considered in violation of the convention.

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