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ABC v Ireland


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Three women, known as A, B and C, challenged Ireland's restrictive abortion laws at the European Court of Human Rights.

This case was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights in August 2005. The challenge was heard at a full hearing before its Grand Chamber of 17 judges on December 9, 2009.

The case was taken by three women, supported by the IFPA, who travelled abroad for abortion services. They argued that the criminalisation of abortion services in Ireland jeopardised their health and wellbeing, in violation of a number of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The first applicant had children in the care of the State as a result of personal problems and considered a further child would jeopardise the successful reunification of her existing family.

The second applicant was not prepared to become a single parent. The third applicant was in remission from cancer when she became pregnant. Unaware that she was pregnant she underwent a series of check ups contraindicated during pregnancy. She claims she could not obtain clear advice about the risks to her health and life and to the foetus if she continued to term.

The three applicants, who all became pregnant unintentionally, told the court that the impossibility of obtaining an abortion in Ireland made the procedure unnecessarily expensive, complicated and traumatic. In particular, they argued that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws stigmatised and humiliated them and risked damaging their health and, in the third applicant’s case, even her life.

They contended that Ireland breached their human rights under Articles 2 (Right to Life), 3 (Prohibition of Torture), 8 (Right to Respect for Family and Private Life) and 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In December 2010 the European Court of Human Rights delivered its ruling in the case of ABC v Ireland. The judges ruled unanimously that Ireland's failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman's life is at risk violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court unanimously found that Ireland’s abortion law violates women’s human rights and that Ireland must make life-saving abortion services available.

In January 2012, the Government established an expert group to advise Government on the implementation of the A, B and C v Ireland case.

In late November 2012, the expert group report was published. The report states that “The X case is the law of the State, as declared by its highest Court. It is binding on all lower courts and generally.”  The report states that: “It would obviously be insufficient for the State to interpret the Court’s judgment as requiring only a procedure to establish entitlement to termination without also giving access to such necessary treatment.” The report expresses concern that any option short of legislation could fail to fulfill the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights.

On 18 December 2012 the Government announced that legislation and regulations would be introduced to give effect to the ruling of the Supreme Court in the X case and of the European Court of Human Rights in A, B and C v Ireland.

The Oireachtas (parliament) Health Committee held three days of consultations in relation to such legislation in January. In May 2013 the Oireachtas Health Committee held further hearings in relation to proposed draft legislation.

In July 2013 President Michael D Higgins signed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act into law. The Act commenced on 1 January 2014.

Supervision of A, B and C v Ireland by the Council of Europe

The Committee of Ministers of the COE oversees the implementation or "execution" of rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee is monitoring the A, B and C v Ireland judgment under its enhanced supervision procedure, and has issued decisions in relation to the Irish Government's progress in giving effect to the judgment at its meetings of September 2011, March and December 2012 and March 2013.

The Committee expressed concern at the Government’s delay in implementing the judgment in A, B and C v Ireland and underlined the importance of putting in place substantive measures to execute the judgment.

At its December 2012 meeting the Committee of Ministers noted the view of the expert group that only the implementation of a statutory framework would provide a defence from criminal prosecution and urged the Irish Government to expedite implementation of the judgment in the A, B and C v Ireland case.

Read the full judgment of ABC v Ireland here.

IFPA Submissions to the Council of Europe: 

IFPA Briefings:

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