Dancing on the head of a pin? Foetal life and the european convention

Feminist Legal Studies 13 (3):363-375 (2005)

The case of Vo v. France represents the latest phase of the European Court of Human Rights’ thinking on the scope of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to life) in relation to foetal life where a foetus had been lost owing to a medical accident. The Court by a majority decided that, “even assuming” Article 2 applied to the instant case (albeit to the life of the pregnant woman rather than that of the foetus), it had not been violated. While the facts in Vo were extreme and exceptional, the Court will shortly hear the case of D v. Ireland concerning access to abortion for foetal anomaly, an application made under Articles 3, 8, 10 and 14 of the European Convention. If the case of D were declared admissible, the Court would then have to consider whether a denial of access to abortion for foetal anomaly constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Article 3, or an interference with a pregnant woman’s right to respect for private life under Article 8 (and if so, how the doctrine of the margin of appreciation applies). The Grand Chamber precedent of Vo displays ambivalence about whether Article 2 should apply to foetal life, and its resort to the “even assuming” formula spared Member States the difficulty of having to justify their various abortion regimes, by reference to this Article. It remains to be seen whether in a case like D that is directly concerned with abortion, the Court will take a more definite stance on the correct balance to be struck between the State’s interest in protecting foetal life and the Convention rights of pregnant women
Keywords abortion  foetus  information  life  maternity care  medical malpractice  unintentional homicide
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DOI 10.1007/s10691-005-9009-3
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