What if only the top of Ireland, representing the North of Ireland is left green after next Thursday?
For all the wrong reasons, next Thursday December 16th might be a drastic turning point in Irish history. It’s the day that the ‘European Court of Human Rights’ may make a decision for Ireland – to legislate for abortion. This court has the authority to rule that Ireland’s pro-life laws infringe upon women’s human rights.
The reason that a far-off court is mulling over Ireland’s law that bans abortion, is because Ireland is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. And this court, the ‘ECHR’ has the authority to decide that Ireland’s pro-life laws are ‘in breach’ of the Convention. Whatever next? The court’s rulings are binding, and Ireland could be under strain to make abortion-on-demand lawful. This is a change from when the women originally took the case, when the rulings of the court/the ECHR were not ‘binding’.
In 2005, the case was originally founded on three women who argue that their health was put in imperil by having to travel out of Ireland to have abortions in the UK. The case is known as the ‘A, B, C’ case; none of the names of the women have been made known as the women have chosen to remain anonymous. There is ‘the right’ of the three women to hold dear to their anonymity, yet surely it is unsettling (and unfair) for the millions of Irish voters who will have their pro-life laws seriously challenged and possibly overturned by three faceless and mysterious persons? What is known about the three women is that two of them are Irish and one Lithuanian. One of the women has made a case based on the unproven fact that she ran a risk of an ectopic pregnancy and this is why she believed she needed to have an abortion. One woman received chemotherapy for cancer, and the other woman’s born children were in the care of someone else, and she feared that she would not be able ‘to cope’ if she carried her pregnancy full-term. I have, in my possession, the ‘statement of facts’ concerning the three women. Let there be no doubt as to who is paying the piper; the Irish Family Planning Association are funding the case, i.e. paying the solicitors’ bills.
Scenario One - The three women ‘win’ their case
The Irish government might be forced to legislate for what we know in Britain as ‘social abortion’. The court will have made a ruling based largely on private opinion – one of the woman thought that she could not cope, another feared she would develop an ectopic pregnancy. As the unborn child’s life ended in a ‘clinic’ in Britain, there is no way of knowing whether the mother would have coped or not. But what is certain is that millions of women in Ireland might have abortion-on-demand foisted on them, because one woman built the case that she 'couldn't cope' for overturning Ireland’s pro-life laws.
If the Irish government follow the ruling, it will mean the dismantling of Ireland’s pro-life laws, as primarily instituted by the Victorian Offences Against the Person Act. The Victorian laws were worded such; Whosoever shall unlawfully supply or procure any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour…
Simultaneously, it will be the eradication of a very proud part of Ireland and Britain’s shared history. It has been fascinatingly paradoxical these past decades that while Britain has gone the way of liberal abortion laws and huge abortion figures, that Ireland maintained pro-life decrees are rooted in British legislation.
We must hold dear to the fact that this case has no influence over the pro-life laws in Northern Ireland. If abortion is legalised in the Republic of Ireland, the North of Ireland will still have pro-life laws. The British tax-payer will still be glad that at least his taxes do not fund abortion in Northern Ireland.
However, there would still be hope for preserving Ireland’s pro-life laws. The Irish government could chose, with difficulty, to ignore the court’s rulings. The court cannot enforce penalties when its judgements are not heeded. It may well be remembered that en masse the Irish people have rejected social abortion in three referenda. There is also the current soical context. We must remember that the numbers of Irish women travelling for abortions has decreased steadily in the last eight years. The official figures from the British government show that 4,400 Irish women went to the UK for abortions in 2009, this is down from 6,600 in 2001.
Scenario Two - The three women ‘lose’ their case
There is the prospect that the court could rule that the appropriate medical treatment was
(and is) available in Ireland, which meant that the women’s rights were not breached.In that case, there would be no need to take apart the Victorian Offences Against the Person Act. In Ireland, it is perfectly within the law that women who develop ectopic pregnancies, and women with cancer, are assured of every medical help, even if that results in the unintentional and involuntary death of the unborn child. But, Irish law does not allow for women to have abortions on the basis that an individual woman thinks/fears that the pregnancy in the future may become ectopic.
This is very unlikely, but the court may say that the three women should have had their cases heard first in Irish courts – it would be anomalous for the court to have taken the case so far and then order this. Next Thursday, the court is set to issue its decision at a public sitting of the court’s grand chamber, which is out of the usual routine, considering that a written judgement from this court is more common.
Whatever the judgment of the court, one thing is crystal; Irish pro-lifers must be guarded and ready to protect our pro-life legislation.