One of the reasons for opposition the European Union was the ability of EU courts to dictate social policies within different countries. This issue is likely to come to a head for some critics with the ruling this week by the European Court of Human Rights that Irish abortion laws violate the rights of a woman seeking abortions in Britain.
At issue was a Lithuanian woman who was in remission for cancer and unaware of her pregnancy. She had to leave Ireland and travel to England, which she claimed put her life at risk. However, her lawyers later said that that was not true.
Protecting the life of the mother is an exception under Irish law. However, the government has not implemented legislation guaranteeing such protections after a 1992 ruling of the Supreme Court.
Two other women challenged the constitutional ban but had their cases dismissed. Notably, the court ruled that these women could not challenge the law because it was protecting “public morals.” This is one of the guarantees made to those who opposed the jurisdiction of the EU courts — to maintain the right of nations to enforce their own morality legislation. The two women expressed a simply desire not to have additional children. One woman was described as “a former alcoholic whose four children were in care [who]her pregnancy would prevent her getting her children back” and the other was a woman who took “a morning-after pill [and] was told by doctors the drug had failed and she ran the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. The government had argued that the law reflected the “profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society”.
The Strasbourg court found that the one woman did face a violation of her human rights by being forced to travel while noting that the woman could receive medical counseling and treatment before and after the procedure. The Court specifically criticized Ireland for leaving the right of mother’s unclear. It found that woman should have received an abortion in Ireland as a matter of medical urgency.