The Applicants were Irish organizations and medical professionals that provided counseling and information to pregnant women as well and two women of childbearing age. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children brought an action against the organizations in the Irish High Court claiming that by providing pregnant women with information about where they could access legal abortion care in another country, the applicants were acting unlawfully under Irish laws on abortion which protected the “right to life of the unborn” and prohibited abortion in all situations except where there was a risk to the life of a pregnant woman. The High Court upheld the claim and granted an injunction, restraining the applicant companies from providing information on abortion services in foreign countries to pregnant women in Ireland.
The applicants filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the injunction constituted an unjustified interference with their right to impart or receive information under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). They also claimed that the restrictions amounted to an interference with their rights to respect for private life, in breach of article 8.
The Court held that the injunction interfered with the applicants’ rights to impart or receive information under article 10 of the ECHR and went on to consider whether or not it was in accordance with the law, and necessary in a democratic society pursuant to a legitimate aim.
The Court found that although the interference was in accordance with the law, it could not be justified under article 10(2) of the ECHR. While the Court accepted that the protection of morals was a legitimate aim that applied on the facts of the case, it held that the relevant injunction was a disproportionate means to achieve that aim. In particular, the Court considered that an absolute, perpetual injunction preventing provision of information on abortion to women “regardless of age or state of health or their reasons for seeking counselling on the termination of pregnancy” (para. 73) was disproportionate to the moral damage likely to be caused. It noted that the relevant information involved non-directive counselling that did not recommend abortion and was readily available from foreign sources. Further, it held that traveling to another country to obtain a legal abortion was not prohibited under Irish law, and that large numbers of women in Ireland traveled to obtain abortion services in foreign countries.
The Court held that it was not necessary for it to consider the article 8 and 14 claims in light of its finding that article 10 had been violated.