Council of Europe to report on abortion update
Decision due after Government submitted outline plans to implement ruling
Arriving at the Oireachtas health committee, which held hearings on the Heads of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 in late May, were: Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, Dr Ambrose McLoughlin, secretary general at the Department of Health and Caroline Luddy. Photograph: Dave Meehan
The Council of Europe will issue a decision in the coming days on the Government’s implementation of the European Court of Human Rights’ “ABC” judgment on abortion, which found that Ireland was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The December 2010 ruling by the Strasbourg-based court was based on proceedings taken by three Irish women, known as “A”, “B” and “C”, against the State. The court found that there had been a violation of article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights in relation to applicant C. The applicant had become unintentionally pregnant while being treated for cancer, but was unable to find a doctor willing to determine whether her life would be at risk if she continued to full term. She travelled to England for an abortion. The court found that there had been no violation of the convention in relation to applicant s A and B.
Deliberations on the implementation of a number of outstanding judgments from across the Council of Europe’s 47 members, began yesterday in Strasbourg and are due to finish tomorrow. The council’s Committee of Ministers, which comprises representatives from each member country, meets about four times a year to consider outstanding judgments.
Last month, the Irish Government submitted an update to the Strasbourg-based body outlining the measures it had taken towards implementation of the ruling. The plan states that “Ireland remains committed to ensuring that the judgment in this case is implemented expeditiously”, adding that the Government has carefully considered the decisions taken by the Committee of Ministers’ deputies to date.
Among the submissions forwarded to the Council of Europe was a copy of the Government’s draft abortion legislation, the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013, which was approved on April 30th. The Bill proposes to legalise abortion where there is a threat to the life of the mother due to the threat of suicide.
The submission notes that oral hearings on the Bill were to be held by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children in late May, after which the committee would present a report to the Minister for Health. “It is the Government’s intention that the Bill be enacted by the end of July, having due regard to the prerogatives of the parliament,” the document states. It adds that the regulations are due to be published at the same time as the primary legislation and it is intended that they will be made “shortly thereafter”.
The submission also notes that the Irish maternity early-warning system, which detects a range of life-threatening conditions, including sepsis, has been introduced in all 19 maternity units, and the system will be reviewed next year.
In March, the Council of Europe emphasised the need for the Irish authorities to “take all necessary measures” regarding women who are of the opinion that their life may be at risk during pregnancy, pending full implementation of the Court of Human Rights judgment.
The European Court of Human Rights is an institution of the Council of Europe, and is responsible for enforcing the European Convention on Human Rights. The ABC case is one of the most high-profile outstanding judgments under consideration by the committee, and the Council of Europe is likely to recommend the speedy implementation of the legislation.
While countries are obliged to abide by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe cannot implement sanctions on countries. One of the most famous Irish cases to come before the court was the 1988 Norris V Ireland case, which resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.