In a landmark judgment, the European Court of Human Rights has said Ireland failed to properly implement the constitutional right to abortion where a woman's life is at risk.

The court found that the rights of a woman, known as 'Ms C', were violated because she could not have an abortion in Ireland even though she feared that her pregnancy would cause the recurrence of her cancer.

The woman travelled to the UK for an abortion.

The court found that the only non-judicial way to determine the risk to a woman's life is the ordinary medical consultation between the woman and her doctor, but that this was ineffective.

It also found that the courts in Ireland were not appropriate for the primary determination of whether a woman qualified for an abortion.

The judgment also stated it was unclear how Irish courts would enforce a mandatory order for a doctor to carry out an abortion, given the lack of information given to the ECHR by the Government regarding lawful abortions carried out in Ireland.

The court also pointed out there had been no explanation as to why the existing Constitutional right to an abortion had not been implemented to date.

The woman was awarded €15,000 in damages.

It is understood that the judgment is now being considered by the Department of Health and the Attorney General.

The court found that the rights of two other women who had taken cases had not been violated.

Legal Counsel representing the three women, Julie F Kay said that the judgment means no other women will be forced to endure humiliation, distress and uncertainty if they are in a life threatening situation.

Mixed reaction to ruling

The Taoiseach has said that the judgment of the European Court of Human rights will have to be carefully studied.

Speaking at the EU summit in Brussels, Mr Cowen said he had not had a chance to read the judgment, but he said it is clearly a very important judgment that raises a number of issues that will have to be carefully considered.

Labour Party Spokesperson on health Jan O’Sullivan TD has said that there is now an obligation on all parties in the Oireachtas to face up to the implications of the ruling of the ECHR today.

The Irish Family Planning Association has said that the ruling 'leaves no option available to the Irish State other than to legislate for abortion.'

The Association, which represented the three applicants in the case, has said the move is necessary in order to protect women at risk.

This afternoon its Chief Executive Niall Behan said the Government now needs to set out how it intends addressing the ruling.

Mr Behan says the ruling sends a strong message that the State can no longer ignore the legislative imperative to legalise abortion in certain cases.

Earlier, the Catholic Primate Cardinal Seán Brady said that
today's judgment does not oblige Ireland to introduce legislation authorising abortion.

The Cardinal has said the Strasbourg Court decision ‘raises profound moral and legal issues which will require careful analysis and reflection.’

He says the judgement leaves future policy in Ireland on protecting the lives of unborn children in the hands of the Irish people.

Meanwhile, the Pro-Life Campaign has said that the judgment does not require the Government to legalise abortion.

It says that it in fact respects the right of Irish people to determine their own legal policy on the issue.

The campaign says maintaining the current situation whereby abortion is illegal will ensure Ireland continues to have a world-renowned safety record for mother and babies during pregnancy.

The National Women's Council of Ireland has welcomed the ruling and called on the Government to legislate for a woman's right to have an abortion if her life is at risk.