The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers will today assess the Irish government’s action plan on the implementation of abortion law.
This action plan has been designed to address the judgement in 2010 in the case of he A, B And C vs Ireland whereby the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had violated the human rights of a woman who had been unable to determine whether or not she qualified for a lawful abortion.
The government presented the new action plan outlining how it will implement this legally-binding judgment following an expert group report on abortion. The action plan will be assessed by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the political governing body of the European human rights authority, which is meeting in Strasbourg today.
Ireland’s human rights watchdog, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) today welcomed the action plan promise to ensure that the judgment is “implemented expeditiously”, which the Council claims will require speedy reform of Ireland’s “wholly outmoded” abortion laws.
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SECOND OPINION: At last women who give birth in Irish hospitals may have at least one of their human rights respected and vindicated. The Report of the Expert group on the Judgment in A, B and C v Ireland says that legislation to regulate access to lawful termination of pregnancy in Ireland is “constitutionally, legally and procedurally sound”.
The State must “provide effective and accessible procedures to establish a woman’s right to an abortion as well as access to such treatment”.
Maternal mortality rates are often quoted by anti-abortion campaigners to show that new legislation is not needed because Ireland’s maternity services are among the best in the world. These rates are meaningless when used to support an anti-abortion stance.
A 2012 analysis of maternal mortality in European perinatal health surveillance systems, including Ireland, shows that current data are insufficient for comparison between countries, because the tiny numbers and statistical variability from year to year are difficult to interpret.
Read full article by JACKY JONES here
THE expert group has confirmed the obvious. Legislation with regulations represents the best way to implement the European Court of Human Rights ABC judgment. It is "constitutionally, legally and procedurally sound". Primary legislation would provide for the drafting of regulations to deal with detailed matters such as changing medical practices. The legislation would also repeal or amend the 1861 Act which criminalises abortion in this country.
The report helpfully sets out a blueprint for Government as to the content of legislation to clarify the X case test. It addresses key issues, including the specific risk of suicide, by saying a psychiatrist could be required to assess this. As Minister for Justice Alan Shatter confirmed yesterday, it would be legally impossible to legislate without including suicide risk. The X case test was confirmed by the people in two referendums in 1992 and 2002. You can't legislate for a bit of that test – it would be like being 'a bit' pregnant.
Read full article by Ivana Bacik here
When I argued a case challenging Ireland's ban on abortion before the European Court of Human Rights in 2009, I told the story of my client, "Ms. C," who had been battling cancer when she became pregnant. Ms. C's doctors in Ireland, where abortion is illegal and lifesaving abortion is largely unavailable, refused to provide her with even basic information about the risk that continuation of pregnancy posed to her life, and so she had no option but to travel to England to obtain an abortion.
The human rights court found this to be a clear violation of my client's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and in 2010 demanded that Ireland reform its abortion laws. The case was considered a major victory for women.
But the victory exists only on paper, as is clear from the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar. Last month Halappanavar, 31, died from a pregnancy-related blood infection after doctors in Ireland refused to perform an abortion. According to her husband, as Halappanavar's health deteriorated, she had begged doctors for medically necessary treatment. Even after her doctors acknowledged that there was no chance her fetus would survive, they refused to terminate the pregnancy as long as they could detect even the faintest fetal heartbeat. Halappanavar slipped into a coma from which she never recovered.
Full article by Julie F. Kay here
Praveen Halapanavar is to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights - saying his right to a full public inquiry is being ignored.
The family of Savita Halappanavar’s had earlier warned the Governement they would make such an application if they didn't agree to a full public inquiry into the circumstances of her death by today.
Separate inquiries by the HSE and the Health Information and Quality Authority are to proceed.
Gerard O'Donnell is the solicitor for Mr Halappanavar:
THERE is broad agreement that the Dáil must provide a legislative framework for a woman’s right to an abortion when her life depends on it, yet division persists about the inclusion of suicide as a risk to life.
People on the anti-choice side of thedebate, citing the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act, say that inclusion of suicide in any legislation would open the floodgates to abortion-on-demand in this country.
This claim is specious. Legislation here would have to comply with the constitutional position that an abortion can only be countenanced when there is "real and substantial risk" to the life of the woman.
In contrast, the UK’s decades-old liberalisation of its laws provided for an abortion in circumstances where "the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman" or when "there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped".
You don’t have to be a legal expert to appreciate that the Oireachtas is precluded, by the pre-eminent legal authority in this country — the Constitution — from enacting similar provisions here.
Full article by Colette Browne here
The expert group report on abortion arose from a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in 2005 by three women, alleging that restrictions on abortion in Ireland were in breach of their human rights.
One of the women was in acute distress. She lived in poverty and had four children already, all of whom were in care. She was attempting to reunite her family when she became pregnant accidentally. She felt she could not possibly cope with a fifth child, nor with the pregnancy. She could not get an abortion in Ireland, where, irrespective of her circumstances, she risked penal servitude for life. She went to Britain, where she had an abortion.
Another of the three women had been in treatment for cancer for three years and she too became pregnant unintentionally. Medical tests were contraindicated during the early stage of her pregnancy. She was unable to get clear medical advice and feared that her pregnancy would lead to a recurrence of her cancer. She, too, felt obliged to go to Britain for an abortion. The third case was less clear-cut.
The third and first cases were dismissed on technical grounds but on the case concerning the woman with cancer, it was found that the absence of clear guidelines in Ireland for when abortion was permissible was a breach of human rights. It was this ruling which led to the expert group report published yesterday.
Full article by Vincent Browne here
The commitment by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that Fine Gael will impose the whip to ensure the passage of legislation covering abortion in limited circumstances is a clear signal that there will not be any serious conflict between the Coalition parties on the issue.
Kenny’s comments yesterday reflect the broad consensus in both Government parties about the need to deal clearly and decisively with the abortion issue in the light of the European Court of Human Rights judgment and the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital.
The vast majority of TDs from both parties have been guarded in their comments since the Savita case. They were determined not to say anything to inflame the situation as they feared being dragged back into the kind of bitterness that characterised debate on the abortion issue in previous decades.
Full article by Stephen Collins here
The family of Savita Halappanavar say the Minister for Health, James Reilly, has until Thursday to agree to a public inquiry into her death or else they will take their case the European Court of Human Rights.
The father of the late Ms Halappanavar has made an appeal to the Government to consider a public inquiry.
Speaking from India, Mr Andanappa Yalagi said the family were not happy with the progress made so far. He added that he did not understand, or trust, the HSE investigation.
Dr Reilly has said that when he receives the reports of the two current investigations into her death, he will take whatever action is needed.
Earlier, Mr Reilly said he respects the views of Praveen Halappanavar and his right to do as he sees fit in seeking a different inquiry into his wife's death.
The minister said he has a duty of care to the women of Ireland and the west of Ireland to ensure practices at University Hospital Galway are safe.
He added that he has a duty to reassure them it is a safe place to have a baby and that he has to await the outcome of the internal and HIQA inquiries.
Minister Reilly said he will take whatever action those inquiries demand, but that "in fairness", this was the first maternal death at the Galway hospital in 17 years, and the service there has been safe.
The Government has been told in the expert group report that the State is under a legal obligation to establish "effective and accessible" procedures so that women who are "legitimately entitled" can have an abortion in Ireland.
The Sunday Independent has seen a full copy of the expert report that was given to the Cabinet late last week and is due to be published on Tuesday.
The report suggests it will be necessary to repeal the 1861 statute governing abortion, which it believes has a "chilling effect" on the treatment of pregnant woman in Irish hospitals.
The top-secret report was commissioned from an expert group following a European Court of Human Rights finding that an Irish citizen's rights were violated because of the absence of procedures to establish if she qualified for a lawful abortion.
The report was compiled before the Savita Halappanavar tragedy -- which is continuing to cause a political and public furore.
The expert group report, compiled by Mr Justice Sean Ryan, is likely to lead to a political firestorm.
Among the findings are:
- The State is obliged to provide procedures to establish a woman's right to an abortion as well as access to such treatments.
- In the case of a risk to the mother it must establish criteria or procedures by which a doctor is to assess that risk; and set up an independent review system where a patient disputes her doctor's refusal to certify that she is entitled to a lawful abortion and where there is a disagreement between doctors as to whether one is necessary.
Though the expert group is circumscribed, by its terms of reference, from making specific recommendations, the full unexpurgated report clearly indicates that legislation is the only appropriate response to the challenges posed by the X and C cases.
The report notes that while the State "is entitled to and indeed obliged to regulate and monitor" the rights of the unborn, it must ensure that "measures that are introduced to give effect to this constitutional right should not act as an obstacle to any woman who is legitimately entitled to seek a termination on lawful grounds".
It then gives the Government a complex list of options for creating a panel to decide such issues.
"The diagnosis of the medical specialists as to whether the woman satisfies the test in the X Case should be made expeditiously/or within a defined time limit and should be formally notified to the woman," it says.
The report also recommends that the Government must make provision for emergencies and disputes and measures to protect medical personnel involved.
"If a doctor carries out a termination in circumstances where the risk to life of the woman is imminent and inevitable rather than real and substantial, he/she should not have any liability because of the failure to follow prescribed procedures."
The Government has also been told to select locations where abortions may take place and taking into account "standards, geographical access and the need to have due regard to the right to the life of the unborn". Such centres should be certified by the Health Minister.
The report also confirms that, when it comes to concerns about suicide, in the wake of the X Case, "termination of pregnancy should be considered a medical treatment regardless of whether the risk to the woman arises on physical or mental health grounds.
"Ultimately, the most politically contentious aspect of the report is likely to be its analysis of whether non-statutory guidelines on the rights of a woman to an abortion in Irish hospitals, or a legislative response, will meet the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights," it says.
It warns that while consideration was given to the possibility of implementing the judgement without recourse to legislation, it is unlikely that "guidelines in isolation" or "some non-statutory protocols" would "fulfil all the requirements set by the European Court of Human Rights judgement."