Court: Irish Abortion Ban Violates Women's Rights

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A European court ruled Thursday that Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion a violation of human rights.

The decision by the the European Court of Human Rights will put pressure on Ireland to give limited abortion rights to women whose lives are endangered by pregnancy.

In an 11-6 verdict, the 17 Strasbourg judges said Ireland was wrong to keep the legal situation unclear and said the Irish government had offered no credible explanation for its failure. The Irish judge on the panel, Mary Finlay Geoghegan, sided with that majority view.

"(Ireland's failure) has resulted in a striking discordance between the theoretical right to a lawful abortion in Ireland on grounds of a relevant risk to a woman's life, and the reality of its practical implementation," the judges wrote.

In 1992, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that abortion should be legal in those cases. But Irish lawmakers refused to go along with the court's ruling.

Some pro-choice advocates claimed the 18-year delay has left the abortion rights of thousands of women in legal limbo, obliging many to travel overseas for the procedure rather than rely on Irish doctors who were fearful of being prosecuted.

Under Irish law dating back to 1861, a doctor and woman both could be prosecuted for murder if an abortion was later deemed not to be medically necessary.

The ruling likely came as a disappointment to pro-lifers.

Prior to Thursday's ruling, Roger Kiska, who is based in Europe and a legal counsel for the American pro-life legal group Alliance Defense Fund, told the case could set an official policy on the issue for Europe.

"No one should be allowed to decide that an innocent life is worthless. Ireland's constitutional amendment defending innocent life is under attack, and now the stakes have just gotten higher," he said.

"With the case moving to the Grand Chamber, the ramifications of the decision that is eventually reached in the case are massive," he added. 

"The case is not only pivotal to Europe; it is pivotal to America as well," Kiska added. "With ever-greater frequency, American courts have considered what other countries are doing when deciding their own cases. This case could be the Roe v. Wade of Europe, so its importance should not be underestimated."

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