Abortion for Social Reasons

Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights says that ‘everyone’s right to life must be protected’. But, does it include the life of an unborn child?

One of the cases which considered this issue is X v UK No 8416/78 (1980). It was held in this case by the Commission that abortion of a ten-week old foetus to protect physical or mental health of its mother does not breach Article 2 because right to life under this article is not absolute. But, the Commission did not explain whether Article 2 protects unborn babies at all. 

Similarly, in H v Norway No 17004/90, 73 DR 155 (1992) the European Court on Human Rights did not refer to rights of unborn babies. Although, it decided that lawful abortion of a 14-week old foetus took place in this case on ground that ‘the pregnancy, birth or care for the child may place the woman in a difficult situation of life’. Therefore, it was held not to be contrary to Article 2. 

Such an attitude of the court is surprising considering that every pregnancy, birth and care place women in difficult situations as it requires them to change their lifestyle to avoid stress, change job, work part-time or quit their jobs. Nevertheless, for such social reasons the Commission allowed to carry abortion. It is mainly because the Commission accepts that national laws on abortion differ from state to state so wide margin of appreciation is allowed and it was not exceeded in this case.  

It seems like the European Court does not appreciate the value of an unborn baby as it does not set any limits on the right to abortion. Instead it lets national law-makers to set these limits by themselves, as they see it appropriate. But, some would argue that unborn babies also deserve international protection as it is a good worth of it.

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