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A.B.C v. Ireland

ECHR affirms there is no “right to abortion” under international law


What was at stake?

The right to life from conception to natural death
The right of a sovereign nation to protect its laws safeguarding life


From 1983 to 2018 Ireland’s constitution protected unborn life. In 1983 a referendum introduced the ‘Eight Amendment’ to Ireland’s constitution, which was an enhanced protection for the right to life of the unborn child. Abortion was already illegal in the country at the time, but this amendment was designed to ensure that it would not be legalized in the future without a further referendum. In 2018 the Irish people voted in a referendum to remove the constitutional protection for the right to life of the unborn child, and thereafter, the Irish government introduced legal abortion to Ireland for the first time.

Since its introduction, the ‘Eight Amendment’ faced fierce opposition and numerous court cases were mounted against it, both in Ireland and before the European Court of Human Rights. One such case was taken in 2008 by three women who filed a claim against Ireland at the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that the laws protecting unborn life, in force at the time, were a breach of their human rights. The women ultimately obtained abortions in Britain (where abortion is legal), but launched a case at the European Court of Human Rights. They tried to establish a “right” to abortion that would override Ireland’s constitutional protections for the unborn, as they existed at the time.

The attempt failed. ADF International lawyers joined with other pro-life organizations to defend the human right to life of the unborn at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court dismissed the claims of two of the three women, making it clear that there is no “right” to abortion under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the third case, the Court found that Ireland should have provided clearer information on whether the woman could have legally obtained an abortion in Ireland. But even in this case, the Court confirmed that there is no “right” to abortion under the European Convention.

“The Court was right to reassert, and this time at its highest level, that there is no right to abortion under the Convention,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International.

“No one should be allowed to decide that an innocent life is worthless, and no one should force any sovereign nation to give up its right to protect life in its constitution if it so chooses,” added Clarke. “In this case, the court wisely upheld that right as it has done in the past.”

Our Role in the Case

ADF International submitted legal arguments to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights together with the Family Research Council, stating that Ireland is free to uphold constitutional protections for the unborn.

Legal Documents

Brief – 02 Sep 2009

Judgment – 16 Dec 2010

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