Healy O'Connor

Abortion Law

THE COMMISSIONER for human rights at the Council of Europe has told the Government it should have “more guts” and legislate to clarify the circumstances when women can have an abortion.

Thomas Hammarberg has also accused the Government of ignoring almost all of the recommendations the Council of Europe made in a damning report on Ireland’s human rights record published in April 2008.

He told The Irish Times it was “striking” how few of the council’s recommendations have been implemented.

“We are used to getting responses from governments, not only in rhetoric but also in some actions. This isn’t the case here,” said Mr Hammarberg, who visited Ireland last week to meet Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and members of several human rights groups.

In the Council of Europe’s 2008 report, Mr Hammarberg recommended 34 specific actions to address urgent Irish human rights concerns involving minorities such as Travellers, asylum seekers and children in care. He also urged the Government to pass legislation to implement the landmark 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the “X” case.

The Supreme Court ruled in the “X” case that abortion is legal if the life of a woman is in danger. But successive governments have still not legislated to provide legal certainty on when a physician may carry out an abortion.

Last December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Ireland had failed to properly implement the constitutional right to abortion in the circumstances of the “X” case, where a woman’s life is deemed to be at risk.

The court’s ruling is binding on Ireland. It requires the State to submit a report to the Council of Europe on how it will implement the judgment by mid-June.

Mr Hammarberg said the European court had focused on ensuring proper procedures are in place to allow abortions to take place when abortion is legal.

“My opinion is that parliaments need to face these problems because there are individual women who are suffering from this confusion that we have,” said Mr Hammarberg in a reference to recent European court cases involving Ireland and Poland.

Asked about the response of the Government and parliamentarians to the judgment in the “X” case, he said: “They should have more guts and legislate.”

The Government said yesterday it was preparing a report to submit to the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe outlining how it plans to respond to losing the abortion case at the European court last December.

(The Irish Times, 6th June 2011)

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