Thursday 15 November 2012

Abortion in Ireland: X Case Revisited Again

Ireland has become a much more liberal country over the last few years - for example, around 73% of people support same sex marriage - but abortion is still a bitterly fought issue. In referendums in 1992 and 2002, the Irish people voted for abortion to be permitted where the mother's life is at risk, but no such legislation has been passed in the 20 years since the X Case that prompted the debate. Tragically a woman has recently died after a miscarriage, sparking an intense debate over the law and reproductive rights in Ireland.

From the Irish Times:

" campaigners have called on the Government to legislate for abortion when the mother’s life is at risk, following the death of Savita Halappanavar after she miscarried at University College Galway last month.

Ms Halappanavar (31) was 17 weeks pregnant when she presented with back pain at the hospital on October 21st. Her husband Praveen Halappanavar claims she was denied a termination despite asking for one several times following her miscarriage diagnosis because the foetal heartbeat was still present.

She spent two days "in agony" until the foetal heartbeat stopped and surgery was carried out to remove the dead foetus. She died of septicaemia on the 28th."

I've blogged in 2010 about the A, B and C case decided by the ECHR in Strasbourg, which ruled that Ireland had breached the convention by not legislating to make right to abortion as described under its own laws accessible to women. Note that this ruling did not change the law on abortion in Ireland, but rather stated that not giving effect to rights decided on nationally breached the convention. The current rules on abortion are very strict, and there is a danger of a chilling affect on doctors, making them afraid of breaking a law that is uncertain, or perhaps even allowing them to refuse abortions by using the legal uncertainty as cover.

While the government has called for people not to prejudge the result of inquiries into Savita Halappanavar's death, it is clearly an on-going scandal that there is no clear law in this area despite two referendums and human rights rulings. There is no excuse for the lack of legislation on this 20 year old issue, and the government needs to act to bring clarity to the law, as voted for democratically and in compliance with the courts. There must be no more hiding behind inquiry after inquiry and report after committee report: it's long past the time for action.

The Council of Minister of the Council of Europe, which oversees compliance with ECHR rulings, will report on Ireland's compliance with the A, B and C ruling at the start of December.


  1. I don't understand why the EU still retains membership for Ireland! the EU has no qualms about imposing sanctions and all sorts of regulations for non-white nations when it comes to being civilized but here is a white country that denies abortion to a woman based on some medieval law.

  2. The EU doesn't have the power to change Member State's family law, and there is no provision for expelling a Member State. I'm not aware of the EU trying to draft any abortion laws for any country.

    The human rights rulings where from the ECHR, which is not an EU institution.