> Abortion Takes Flight
> By LINDA GREENHOUSE
> Linda GreenhouseLinda Greenhouse
> Supreme Court and the law.
> European Union
> Irish law prohibits all abortions except those necessary to save a
> woman's life, and as a practical matter it imposes daunting obstacles
> to terminating life-threatening pregnancies as well. In a secularized
> Europe, Ireland is noticeably out of step. Of the 47 countries covered
> by the European Convention on Human Rights, only in the fairytale
> countries of Andorra, Malta and San Marino, where all abortions are
> illegal, is the law any stricter.
> So a decision earlier this month from the European Court of Human Rights
> in the Case of A, B, and C v. Ireland,
> promised to be of more than routine interest. A challenge to the Irish
> law brought by three women asserting rights under the European
> Convention, it held the potential to express a Continent-wide consensus
> that abortion rights are human rights.
> Indeed, the initial news reports in this country
> at least in headlines, indicated that this is what had happened. The
> European court awarded 15,000 euros, about $20,000, to Plaintiff C, a
> cancer patient who feared that her life was at risk from an unintended
> pregnancy and who, like Plaintiffs A and B and thousands of other Irish
> women every year, had to leave the country to obtain an abortion.
> But a closer reading of the 40,000-word decision tells a different
> story.The Strasbourg, France, court --- which 30 years agointerpreted
> the Convention to protect gay rights
> --- actually made clear that it was not recognizing a right to abortion.
> On behalf of Plaintiff C, who could not find an Irish doctor willing to
> help her even assess her risks, it was simply telling Ireland that if
> the country chose to offer a life-saving exception to its abortion ban,
> it had to give women "an accessible and effective procedure" to
> demonstrate that they qualified. Article 8 of the Convention, entitling
> individuals to "the right to respect" for their "private and family
> life," required at least that. (The court noted that in the absence of
> such a procedure, the existing penalty of life in prison for both woman
> and doctor for an abortion that turned out to have been illegal imposed
> "a significant chilling factor" on doctor-patient consultation.)
> The other two plaintiffs had not claimed to come within the life-saving
> exception. Their argument was that they had strong personal reasons for
> wanting to end their pregnancies, and that they should not have had to
> endure the financial and psychological burden of fleeing their own
> country in order to do so. (A public referendum in 1992 lifted the
> previous criminal prohibition on leaving Ireland to get an abortion.)
> These women came away from the lawsuit with nothing. Plaintiff A was
> single, living in poverty and suffering from clinical depression, with
> four children in foster care. She was trying to get her children back
> and was afraid that her effort would fail if the social workers knew she
> was pregnant. She traveled secretly to England for the abortion after
> borrowing nearly $1,000 at a high interest rate.
> As I read the European court's opinion, I had the eerie feeling that
> I was peering into an American future.
> Plaintiff B became pregnant despite having taken a "morning after" pill
> after unprotected intercourse and was warned by two doctors that the
> medication put her at risk of a dangerous ectopic pregnancy (a common
> but incorrect belief). She borrowed a friend's credit card and made
> arrangements to go to England. Although her pregnancy turned out to be
> normal, she felt she was not in a position to care for a child and went
> ahead with the abortion.
> No right under the Convention was violated in these two instances, the
> court said by a vote of 11 to 6. Granted, "the process of traveling
> abroad for an abortion was psychologically and physically arduous" for
> these women. And granted also that in their particular circumstances,
> they could have obtained legal abortions in 35 to 40 other countries
> covered by the Convention. But because Ireland's law is based "on the
> profound moral views of the Irish people as to the nature of life," the
> court said, Ireland was entitled to an extra "margin of appreciation."
> This phrase expresses a measure of deference toward a country's right
> within the framework of international law to chart its own domestic
> course. With its extra margin, Irish law prevailed.
> The women's lawyers had asked the court to take account of the strong
> trend toward liberalizing European abortion laws, demonstrating, they
> argued, the existence of a consensus on a matter of international human
> The court did take the European consensus into account. But, perversely,
> it used that fact not on the women's behalf, but against them,
> emphasizing Irish women's ability to travel to any of dozens of
> countries, with "no legal impediment," to end their pregnancies. Given
> that ability, the court concluded, Irish law "struck a fair balance."
> So this is the bottom line for abortion rights in Ireland --- rich women
> and poor can sleep under the same bridge board the same plane.
> Ordinarily I would not devote a column to the decision of a non-U.S.
> court, in the jurisprudence of which I claim no particular expertise.
> But as I finished reading this opinion, I had the eerie feeling that I
> was peering into a domestic future.
> As Robert Pear of The Times noted
> recently, the political climate in Congress has grown much more hostile
> to abortion rights since the November election. Representative Joe
> Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican, will be in charge of a House
> subcommittee with jurisdiction over many abortion-relevant subjects,
> including private health insurance, Medicaid, the Food and Drug
> Administration, and the National Institutes of Health. He is one of the
> leading opponents of abortion on Capitol Hill and was put forward for
> his new position by the National Right to Life Committee.
> And as Robert Barnes of The Washington Post observed
> in a long article this week, states are erecting new obstacles to
> abortion in the expectation that the current Supreme Court is likely to
> uphold at least some of them. States are moving to ban abortion even
> before fetal viability, a direct challenge to existing Supreme Court
> precedent. In the name of "informed consent," some states now require
> doctors to "inform" women that abortion has negative psychological
> effects and increases the risk of breast cancer, both of which are
> untrue. (Recall that Dr. C. Everett Koop, the Reagan administration's
> surgeon general and a strong opponent of abortion, was given the task of
> with finding evidence of a psychological "post-abortion syndrome" and
> reported back to the White House that there was none.)
> Obviously, not all states would choose to join the anti-abortion
> bandwagon, even if they had the Supreme Court's permission. California,
> New York, the District of Columbia, Connecticut and Massachusetts (once
> two of the most anti-abortion states, but times change) would remain
> places of refuge for desperate women, Englands to the Irelands that are
> Wyoming (which has no abortion provider), the Dakotas, or the Deep
> South, where a shrinking handful of doctors provide abortions in a
> hostile regulatory climate. More than a third of all women live in
> counties without an abortion provider, and that number is growing.
> Long-distance travel is made more onerous in the half of the states that
> require 24-hour waiting periods after "counseling," necessitating two
> trips or an overnight stay.
> Yet abortion remains one of the most common of all medical procedures.
> Nearly a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion; put another way,
> nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended, and of those, 40 percent
> are terminated. One out of every three American women will have an
> abortion by the age of 45.
> And if they can't get the care they seek at home, where will they go? As
> the European Court of Human Rights seems to assume, there is always the