Abortion in Ireland: Legal Timeline



  • Three women challenge Ireland’s ban on abortion in the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that the law jeopardised their health and their wellbeing in violation of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The women lodged a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in August 2005 and an oral hearing of the case will be heard before the Grand Chamber of 17 Judges on December 9, 2009. The women, known as A, B & C to protect their confidentiality, contend that Ireland has breached their human rights under Articles 2 (Right to Life), 3 (Prohibition of Torture), 8 (Right to Respect for Family and Private Life) and 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.


  • A 17-year-old woman known as Miss D with an anencephalic pregnancy goes to High Court to force the Health Service Executive to allow her to travel to obtain an abortion. The High Court rules that she has a right to travel.


  • European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rules D v Ireland inadmissible because the case did not go through the Irish Courts. The Irish Government relies on the argument that in the Applicant's particular circumstances, she could have been legally entitled to an abortion in Ireland should she have gone through the Irish courts system. The Applicant, known as D, argued that Ireland's ban on abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities violated Articles 1, 3, 8, 20, 13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.



  • The Department of Health and Children establishes the Crisis Pregnancy Agency to prepare and implement a strategy to address the issue of crisis pregnancy in Ireland as recommended by the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution's Fifth Progress Report on Abortion. The strategy is to provide for:
    • a reduction in the number of crisis pregnancies by the provision of education, advice and contraceptive services;
    • a reduction in the number of women with crisis pregnancies who opt for abortion by offering services and supports which make other options more attractive;
    • the provision of counselling and medical services after crisis pregnancy.


  • All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, chaired by Brian Lenihan, publishes its Fifth Progress Report: Abortion. The 700 page report is a political assessment of the issues raised in the Green Paper on Abortion, submissions received and hearings conducted. The views of women who have had abortions were not heard. The Committee fails to reach a political consensus on the substantive legal issues of abortion but agrees on a strategy to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies. The report further recommends the establishment of a dedicated agency under the Department of Health and Children to implement the strategy. The report is sent to a Cabinet Subcommittee chaired by Minister for Health and Children Michael Martin for consideration.
  • Cabinet Committee chaired by Brian Cowen, Minister for Health and Children, publishes Green Paper on Abortion prepared by an Interdepartmental Working Group. The Green Paper aims to set out the issues surrounding abortion, provide a brief analysis and to consider possible options available. It is a discussion document and not a policy document.


  • A 13 year old girl, known as Miss C, is raped and becomes pregnant. The Eastern Health Board takes C into its care and in accordance with the girl's wishes, obtains orders from the District Court to take C abroad for an abortion. C's parents challenge these orders in the High Court case A and B v Eastern Health Board, District Court Judge Mary Fahy and C. Mr Justice Geoghegan rules that as Miss C was likely to take her own life if forced to continue with the pregnancy, she was entitled to an abortion in Ireland by virtue of the Supreme Court judgement in the 1992 X Case.


  • The Constitution Review Group recommends the introduction of legislation covering matters such as defintion of the "unborn", protection for appropriate medical intervention, certification of "real and substantial risk to the life of the mother" and a time limit on lawful abortion.


  • Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for the Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995 is enacted. The Act allows doctors, advisory agencies and individual counsellors to give information on abortions services abroad should a woman request it. However, the Act requires any information on abortion services be provided along with information on parenting and adoption and may only be given the context of one to one counselling. The Act also prohibits service providers (including doctors) from making an appointment for a termination abroad on behalf of their client. Advisory agencies, doctors and counsellors that do not provide information on abortion services abroad but do engage in pregnancy counselling are not subject to the provisions of the Act.


  • As a result of the X case judgement and the issues relating to travelling and information on abortion, the Government puts forward three possible amendments to the Constitution in a referendum. The three amendments include:
    • The freedom to travel outside the State for an abortion - PASSED
    • The freedom to obtain or make available information on abortion services outside the State, subject to conditions - PASSED
    • To roll back the X Case judgement in order to remove suicide as a grounds for abortion in Ireland - REJECTED
  • In the case of Open Door and Well Woman v Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights rules that Ireland violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of expression. The Court found that the Irish Courts' injunction against Open Door and Well Woman from receiving or imparting information on abortion services legally available in other countries was disproportionate and created a risk to the health of women seeking abortions outside the State.
  • The Supreme Court rules in Attorney General v X that a 14 year old girl, known as X, pregnant as a result of rape, faces a real and substantial risk to her life due to threat of suicide and this threat could only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy. Therefore, X is entitled to an abortion in Ireland under the provision of article 40.3.3 of the Constitution that requires the State to have "due regard to the equal right life of the mother"


  • Upon the request of the Irish High Court in relation to the 1989 case to prevent student groups distributing information on abortion services in the UK, the European Court of Justice rules in SPUC v Grogan that abortion could constitute a service under the Treaty of Rome (Treaty of the European Economic Community) and therefore a Member State could not prohibit the distribution of information by agencies having a commerical relationship with foreign abortion clinics. However, the Court also rules that since the student groups had no direct links with abortion services outside of Ireland, they could not claim protection of European Community law.


  • Referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution is passed after a bitterly contested campaign. 53.67% of the electorate voted with 841 233 votes in favour and 416 136 against. Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution is inserted to read: "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."1


  • Offences Against the Person Act 1861 criminalises women who "procure a miscarriage". The punishment is penal servitude for life. The Act also makes it crime to help a woman "procure a miscarriage". The punishment is penal servitude for three years. These criminal laws remain on the Irish Statute books and are interpreted to criminalise abortion in all circumstances. Subsequent amendments to the Constitution and court cases have interpreted further the dimensions of abortion, however, the 1861 Act remains the basis of criminal law on abortion in Ireland.