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Europe’s Roe v. Wade?

Ireland is cautious when it comes to defending its stance against abortion. Voters approved the Lisbon treaty on EU integration earlier this year only after stringent guarantees from other EU countries that EU law would not force Ireland to relinquish its ban on the procedure, which was backed by a 1983 referendum. So, after all ...

Ireland is cautious when it comes to defending its stance against abortion. Voters approved the Lisbon treaty on EU integration earlier this year only after stringent guarantees from other EU countries that EU law would not force Ireland to relinquish its ban on the procedure, which was backed by a 1983 referendum.

So, after all that, it’s ironic that the challenge to its constitutionally enshrined "right to life of the unborn" is instead coming in the form of a human rights case before a different European body: the 47-member Council of Europe. The case could have continent-wide implications, if the European Court of Human Rights rules in favor of the three women bringing the case, establishing some protection of abortions sought on medical grounds.

As a signatory of the European Human Rights Convention, Ireland would have to change its laws if the court finds in favor of the women — identified as A, B and C in the court documents. Abortion is currently permitted only in cases of significant risk to the mother, but the women’s lawyer argued today that even in those cases abortion is effectively out of reach due to doctor’s fear or unwillingness to risk falling afoul the narrow parameters allowed.

The court’s ruling, expected in a few months, might have implications for other EU countries, such as Poland and Malta, which have very restrictive abortion laws. Two years ago, the same court found in favor of a Polish woman denied an abortion despite medical recognition that the pregnancy endangered her eyesight, forcing the government to pay her compensation and provide a legal framework for access to lawful, medical need abortions.

Ireland is cautious when it comes to defending its stance against abortion. Voters approved the Lisbon treaty on EU integration earlier this year only after stringent guarantees from other EU countries that EU law would not force Ireland to relinquish its ban on the procedure, which was backed by a 1983 referendum.

So, after all that, it’s ironic that the challenge to its constitutionally enshrined "right to life of the unborn" is instead coming in the form of a human rights case before a different European body: the 47-member Council of Europe. The case could have continent-wide implications, if the European Court of Human Rights rules in favor of the three women bringing the case, establishing some protection of abortions sought on medical grounds.

As a signatory of the European Human Rights Convention, Ireland would have to change its laws if the court finds in favor of the women — identified as A, B and C in the court documents. Abortion is currently permitted only in cases of significant risk to the mother, but the women’s lawyer argued today that even in those cases abortion is effectively out of reach due to doctor’s fear or unwillingness to risk falling afoul the narrow parameters allowed.

The court’s ruling, expected in a few months, might have implications for other EU countries, such as Poland and Malta, which have very restrictive abortion laws. Two years ago, the same court found in favor of a Polish woman denied an abortion despite medical recognition that the pregnancy endangered her eyesight, forcing the government to pay her compensation and provide a legal framework for access to lawful, medical need abortions.

Jordana Timerman is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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