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Ethics briefings
  1. Sophie Brannan,
  2. Eleanor Chrispin,
  3. Veronica English,
  4. Rebecca Mussell,
  5. Julian Sheather,
  6. Ann Sommerville
  1. British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Martin Davies, British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP, UK; mdavies{at}

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Abortion: European Court of Human Rights

A woman from the Republic of Ireland has successfully challenged the country's restrictive abortion legislation at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).1 The woman was in remission from cancer and believed that she was at increased risk of relapse due to her unintended pregnancy. She believed that continuing with the pregnancy would have put her life at risk. She travelled to England for an abortion in 2005 and subsequently experienced medical complications when she returned to Republic of Ireland. Abortion in the Republic of Ireland is permitted if the life of the pregnant woman is at risk, but given the uncertainty around interpreting the legislation and the fear of criminal sanctions, the provision is not always effective in practice. The woman argued that her right to an abortion had been denied because there was no law or procedure through which she could have her clinical entitlement established. The ECtHR was unanimous that her right to private and family life (Article 8) had been violated but did not uphold her challenge under Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). The woman was joined by two other women in the challenge but the other women were unsuccessful as their circumstances differed; their lives had not been at risk if they had continued with their pregnancies.2

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 lawful abortion in Ireland’.3

At the time of writing, the Irish government was considering how to implement the judgement.

Review of arm's-length bodies

As previously reported here, in July 2010 the UK Government announced plans to reform and abolish a large number of arm's-length bodies.4 …

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