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UPDATE 1-Europe rights courts faults Ireland on abortion ban

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 16 Dec 2010 01:13 PM
Author: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. Click For Restrictions. http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
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* Court faults Ireland over abortion bar on sick woman

* Rejects case brought by two other women

* Ireland "dragging heels" for decades on issue -expert

(Recasts with further detail, quote, background, adds byline)

By Gilbert Reilhac

STRASBOURG, France, Dec 16 (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Ireland on Thursday for stopping a Lithuanian cancer sufferer from terminating a pregnancy, in a blow to the predominantly Catholic country and its tough abortion laws.

In a final ruling, the rights court found Ireland had not respected the privacy and family rights of the Lithuanian woman, who was living in Ireland and feared a pregnancy could trigger a relapse of her cancer, in remission at the time.

The court, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, ordered Ireland to pay 15,000 euros (${esc.dollar}19,840) in damages to the woman, who was forced to travel to Britain, where the laws are more liberal, to terminate her pregnancy.

Terminating a pregnancy has long been a fraught issue in Ireland, where some of the toughest abortion laws in Europe allow terminations only when the mother's life is in danger.

The European court said Ireland had failed to ensure the Lithuanian woman's legal right to a termination.

"The Court concluded that neither the medical consultation nor litigation options, relied on by the Irish government, constituted effective and accessible procedures which allowed (her) to establish her right to a lawful abortion in Ireland," said a statement on the ruling.

The court rejected appeals by two other women, both Irish, who also had travelled to Britain in 2005 for abortions.

One was an unemployed, former alcoholic who was suffering from depression, living in poverty and trying to recover custody of four children from foster care when she got pregnant. The other did not want to become a single parent and feared an extra-uterine pregnancy.

CLARITY NEEDED

Ronan McCrea, a law lecturer at Britain's University of Reading, who has been following the case, said the Irish government had been procrastinating on abortion rights ever since an early-1990s ruling that reopened the debate.

In the so-called "X" case of 1992, Ireland's Supreme Court overturned a ruling stopping a girl of 14 who had been raped from having an abortion. That prompted two referendums that led to the right to information and to travel for an abortion.

"The government has been dragging its feet for decades and they're going to have to, now, legislate at some stage to clarify the meaning of the "X" case and the anti-abortion amendment," said McCrea.

"It's inexcusable that they haven't legislated to clarify what this means."

Between 1980 and end-2009, at least 142,060 women in Ireland travelled for abortion services in England and Wales, a short ferry ride from Ireland, according to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA).

Women in Catholic Poland also face strict laws. Official statistics show several hundred abortions performed annually but pro-choice campaigners estimate hundreds of thousands are performed underground or abroad, sometimes in poor conditions.

Traditionally Catholic Spain has changed its law making it easier for women to have abortions but some conservative-led regions have refused to allow their hospitals to perform them.

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Dublin; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Michael Roddy)

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