Grand Chamber Judgment Issued in Irish Abortion Rights Case

December 2010 – Strasbourg

In a Grand Chamber Judgment issued 16 December 2010 in the case A, B, and C v. Ireland, the Court found, in respect of the third applicant, a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to private and family life) while declining to assert that the ECHR supports a right to abortion in contravention of national laws to the contrary. The case concerned three women, two Irish nationals and one Lithuanian national, who because of restrictions in Ireland sought abortions elsewhere. They claimed that the impossibility of having an abortion in Ireland made the procedure unnecessarily expensive, complicated, and traumatic and that the Irish restrictions stigmatized and humiliated them, risked damaging their health, and, in the third applicant’s case, her life. 

In the case of the first and second applicants, the Court found that the prohibition on the termination of the pregnancies did represent an interference with their right to respect for their private lives, but that interference had been in accordance with the law and had pursued the legitimate aim of protecting public morals as understood in Ireland. Ireland’s law, noted the Court, is based “on the profound moral views of the Irish people as to the nature of life,” and therefore Ireland is entitled to an extra “margin of appreciation” in the its prohibitions on abortion. 

In the case of the third applicant, however, the Court noted that she had a rare form of cancer and feared it might relapse as a result of her being pregnant. The Court considered that the establishment of any such risk to the applicant’s life clearly concerned fundamental values and essential aspects of her right to respect for her private life, which are constitutionally protected in Ireland. It went on to find that the only non-judicial means for determining such a risk on which the Government relied, the ordinary medical consultation between a woman and her doctor, was ineffective and that the applicant’s recourse to the constitutional courts for determination of the lawfulness of an abortion was also ineffective. The third applicant was therefore awarded EUR 15,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.