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Abortion Support Network disappointed by the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on the challenge to Ireland’s abortion ban

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Abortion Support Network is extremely disappointed with today’s ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the challenge to Ireland’s abortion ban by three women who underwent considerable hardship and trauma by being forced to travel to England in order to access a safe and legal abortion. As an organisation that provides support to women who are forced to make this journey, we know the significant distress, worry and financial burden that women in Ireland are made to bear by being denied an abortion in their own country.

Every year thousands of women are forced to make this journey, and do so under extremely difficult, often desperate, circumstances. They face the struggles of finding the money to pay for the cost of the trip and procedure, of taking time off work, and sometimes the additional costs and difficulties of finding child care. These costs can range from anything between £400 and £2000. Women face the additional burden and stress of maintaining secrecy about their abortion back home. As a result, these women are incredibly isolated and many travel alone.

Abortion Support Network’s Director, Mara Clarke said:

“While we are encouraged by the ruling that woman “C”, who was in remission from cancer when she fell pregnant, had her human rights violated, we are deeply saddened that the Court chose not to recognise the hardships faced by the two other claimants in the case.

The sooner the Irish government rectifies this long-standing injustice, the sooner women will be able to make their own decisions about abortion and make choices that are right for them.

Every week we hear from pregnant women living in Ireland who are in a state of crisis, with no other place to turn. As long as women in the Republic of Ireland do not have access to safe and legal abortions in their home country, Abortion Support Network will offer them immediate, practical support in the form of confidential, non-judgemental information, accommodation and financial help towards the costs of their abortion.

We will also continue to offer our support to women in Northern Ireland, and other countries where women’s rights continue to be violated by the denial of access to safe and legal abortions in their home countries.

We will help women irrespective of circumstance as it is our belief that women are capable of making their own decisions.”

In the words of one of the women that we have supported, a 37 year old mother of three:

“It was a very hard decision and I wouldn’t wish anyone to find themselves in this situation … I felt vulnerable, alone and upset. I felt I could contact ASN, that they cared and they were there to support me while in another country and alone … I will forever feel grateful for the help and support I received.”

Ends –

For further information or to arrange an interview contact Mara Clarke, ASN Director on +44 (0) 7913 353 530 or email [email protected]. For further details about the case, including the legal context, please contact the Irish Family Planning Association in Dublin, which supported the women.

Notes to editors

The case was heard on December 9th 2009 at an oral hearing before the Grand Chamber of the Court. This 17-judge court is reserved to hear cases of particular importance that raise serious questions affecting the interpretation of the European Human Rights Convention.

The first applicant had children in the care of the state as a result of personal problems and considered a further child would jeopardise the successful reunification of her existing family. The second applicant was not prepared to become a single parent. The third applicant was in remission from cancer when she became pregnant. Unaware that she was pregnant she underwent a series of check ups contraindicated during pregnancy. She claims she could not obtain clear advice about the risks to her health and life and to the foetus if she continued to term.

Abortion Support Network is an all-volunteer organisation that provides information, accommodation and financial assistance to women who are forced to travel to England to access a safe and legal abortion. The information and support we offer is strictly confidential and non-judgemental. Our volunteers provide a meal and a safe place to sleep for women travelling to London for abortions. We also fundraise to provide grants to help towards the cost of having the procedure at a clinic in England. We are the only organisation known to be providing practical support of this kind. For more information or to support our work visit

In Northern Ireland (despite being part of the UK), and the Republic of Ireland, abortion is illegal except under extremely limited circumstances and it is virtually impossible for women to access an abortion legally. In both countries, however, women can legally travel abroad for an abortion. Further information about abortion law in Ireland is available from:

Irish Family Planning Association

Bpas Ireland website

FPA (Northern Ireland)

In 2009, a total of 5545 abortions were performed in England and Wales on women resident in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (Department of Health, 2010). The actual number of women having abortions abroad is likely to be higher, with additional women giving a false address or travelling to Belgium or The Netherlands for an abortion.

Women who travel from Ireland to England for an abortion have to pay for their travel and commonly that of a partner, friend or family member accompanying them (last minute air fares and travel to and from the clinic), often pay for accommodation to stay overnight, and must pay for the procedure as a private patient. The cost of the procedure alone ranges between £350 and £1350, depending on the stage of their pregnancy. Some women must also pay the costs of childcare for children back home.

Case Studies

Abortion Support Network speaks to women who are facing horrendous situations which are further compounded by the need to travel abroad to access a safe, legal abortion. Some of these women have given us permission to share their annonomised stories with the media in order to help raise awareness of what it means to live in a country where abortion is broadly speaking illegal. For more information, please contact [email protected] or +44 (0) 7913 353 530. Additional stories and quotes can be found in our annual report.

Download the 2010 Annual Report.