Case on Irish abortion law ‘possible’ after Belfast ruling

Bacik says one could ‘absolutely draw the conclusion’ Republic’s laws breach rights

Labour Senator and right-to-choose campaigner Ivana Bacik said the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission should consider taking a case to the High Court in Dublin in the light of the ruling on abortion in Belfast.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

Labour Senator and right-to-choose campaigner Ivana Bacik said the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission should consider taking a case to the High Court in Dublin in the light of the ruling on abortion in Belfast. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

 

It is “entirely possible” a case asserting the Republic’s abortion regime breached women’s human rights would be taken here, the executive director of Amnesty International Ireland has said following the Belfast judgment.

“However it is not entirely clear how it would be taken,” Colm O’Gorman said.

While the Belfast case, in which the High Court there found Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, had been initiated by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the context in the Republic was more complex, he said.

“It is not entirely clear whether the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) could take a similar case here given the Constitutional position on abortion. Would they be saying the legislation was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, or would they be saying the Constitution was?”

He said there was “always the possibility” of a pregnant woman with a fatal foetal anomaly who wanted to terminate the pregnancy, and/or her partner, going into court to seek “immediate relief” on the basis that her human rights were being breached.

“But why would anyone put themselves through that if they could in fact travel for an abortion? It would perhaps have to be a woman or girl who simply could not travel, for whatever reason. It is unthinkable, but sadly entirely possible.”

The IHREC was unable to comment on the Belfast case on Monday night.

Labour Senator and right-to-choose campaigner Ivana Bacik said the IHREC should consider taking a case to the High Court in Dublin in the light of the ruling in Belfast.

She said “this is a case waiting to happen” and one could “absolutely draw the conclusion that the Republic’s laws on abortion are in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. That is very clear.”

Ms Bacik, who is Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin said there was a general presumption a case could only be taken in the High Court in the Republic by a pregnant woman who was affected in a manner that was being claimed to be in breach of the European convention.

However, she said, in the Belfast case the judge had allowed the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission take the case, despite the North’s attorney general arguing it had no standing as there was no victim or potential victim.

“Clearly our law is different but a challenge should be looked at,” Ms Bacik said. “It creates an interesting possibility for this jurisdiction.” She thought a case against the restriction in cases where there was a fatal fetal abnormality might succeed. A case concerning pregnancy that resulted from rape might not succeed because of the eight amendment of the Constitution.