Home > Commentary, Constitution of Ireland, New Judgments and Cases to Watch > A, B and C v. Ireland starts today

A, B and C v. Ireland starts today

A, B and C v. Ireland, the case in which three women will challenge Ireland’s abortion regime before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights begins today. It is the first Irish case to be heard by the Grand Chamber since Senator David Norris’ case which resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The Irish Family Planning Association provides resources here,  I have blogged about the case in some detail here and there is more recent press coverage here, here, here, here, here and here. The ever-objective Irish Examiner deserves special mention for illustrating its coverage with a picture of a baby’s foot.

The issues affecting the three women in A, B and C – many of which are described in Anne Rossiter’s book ‘The Abortion Trail’ – are still very much live. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency recently reported a drop in the – still substantial – numbers of Irish women travelling to the UK for the purposes of abortion, at the same time highlighting the presence in the state of ‘rogue’ pregnancy advisory services designed to dissuade women from terminating their pregnancies. We promise further analysis when the judgment is handed down.

In November, in  a judicial review case brought by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child [2009] NIQB 92,  Lord Justice Girvan ruled that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety abortion guidelines for Northern Ireland health professionals should be withdrawn because they were too ambiguous.  Press coverage of the decision is available here, here here and here, and there is an interesting activist’s view of the case here. Some of SPUC’s briefing papers on the campaign are available at this site, a long with a good deal of less useful material. SPUC, in its discussion of the High Court decision takes the view that:

Abortion is not health care. In Northern Ireland it is a criminal offence. It is simply extraordinary that a government department should have issued guidance on criminal legislation and not have once mentioned the victim of the crime. In illegal abortion the primary victim is the unborn child and any new guidance that the department brings forward needs to take fully into account the duty of care and the legal protection owed to the child before birth.

“Abortion doesn’t only kill children it also hurts women. There is a huge amount of evidence that abortion can damage the physical and mental health of women. If the department is serious about providing aftercare for women hurt by abortion then health officials cannot continue to ignore the evidence of post-abortion trauma. More needs to be done to warn women of the consequences of abortion but there has to be more help for women facing a crisis pregnancy as well.

“The law in Northern Ireland protects both women and children and new guidance must reflect that.”

That SPUC is seeking to inhabit a discourse of women’s rights – though notably one hinging on protection rather than autonomy – is certainly interesting. Speaking about the experience of Irish women who travel to England for abortion, the Medical Director of the British Pregancy Advisory Service presents quite a different picture:

Women from the Republic of Ireland often arrive for treatment alone, because they can’t afford to bring their partner or mother to accompany them.

“They are understandably very often apprehensive, having had to travel for hours or days to reach an unfamiliar clinic in England.

“It’s disturbing that the law in Ireland forces women to pay privately for care abroad. This creates weeks of delay before seeing a doctor while women try to borrow or save up money to pay for travel, accommodation and for their abortion.”

She went on: “The ban means that doctors in Ireland are not routinely issued with proper training and guidance to care for patients in the extremely common situation of seeking an abortion.

“Post-abortion aftercare and follow-up is not easily available in Ireland, meaning women may not get help if they need it, or have to pretend they’ve had a miscarriage to get help.

“As doctors, we’re concerned at the needless burden of additional risk caused by treatment delays. You don’t have to be medically qualified to understand that the Irish abortion ban risks women’s physical health, requires abortions to be performed later than necessary, and creates serious emotional upset for women at an already stressful time.”

There is more detail on Irish doctors’ negotiation of the Republic’s abortion regime in this article by Barbara Hewson. The Family Planning Association, approaching autonomy from quite a different standpoint, has argued that the Northern Irish government should compensate female residents who have travelled abroad for termination, for the the financial burden of securing an abortion in England.

  1. January 13, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Have the tables turned full circle when the nga’s discouraging abortion are described as ‘rogue’?

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