The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) refused Thursday to grant full human rights to fetuses, instead maintaining that the decision was best left to the individual national governments. The appeal before the court was brought by a French woman who argued that France violated her unborn child's right to life when a French court overturned a conviction of the doctor whose mistake forced the woman to abort the baby. In the 14-2 decision by the court, it cited a lack of consensus throughout the continent on the status of fetuses in holding that the French court had not violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
HERE: Press release issued by the Registrar: GRAND CHAMBER JUDGMENT IN THE CASE OF VO v. FRANCE
Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.
Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:
(a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence;
(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent escape of a person lawfully detained;
(c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.
European Court Denies Fetus Rights Ruling
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: July 8, 2004
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Europe's top human rights court rejected an appeal Thursday to grant full human rights to a fetus, saying national governments must decide the issue themselves.
Meeting in Strasbourg, France, the European Court of Human Rights said it could not rule on a case filed by a French woman who was forced to have an abortion after a doctor's mistake.
Thi-Nho Vo had argued that France had violated the right to life of her unborn child, after French courts refused to convict the doctor of involuntary homicide.
The 17-judge panel ruled the issue of when the right to life begins ``was a question to be decided at national level ... because the issue had not been decided within the majority of states'' which have ratified the European Convention on human rights.
The court said at the European level, ``there was no consensus on the nature and a status of the embryo and/or fetus.''
Vo took the case to the European court after France's highest court overturned the doctor's conviction on a charge of involuntary homicide, ruling the fetus was not yet a human being entitled to the protection of criminal law.
In a 14-2 decision, the European Court concluded that ``it was neither desirable, nor even possible ... to answer in the abstract the question whether the unborn child was a person.'' The presiding judge did not cast a vote.
The court's sensitive approach reflected deep differences over abortion across the continent.
The decision was welcomed by a leading abortion rights group that filed arguments warning that accepting a right to life for a fetus could make abortions illegal in all 45 countries that recognize the court's jurisdiction.
``This was obviously a tragic individual case but we are pleased that the judges have ruled to reject the applicant's case,'' said Anne Weyman, chief executive of the London-based Family Planning Association.
In a statement, she said the ``decision will safeguard the laws on abortion which have been widely adopted in the European member states, and will serve to protect women's rights to life, health, self-determination and equality.''
According to court documents, Vo, 36, a French national who lives in Bourg-en-Bresse, France, went to a hospital in Lyons on Nov. 21, 1991, for an exam when she was six months pregnant.
On the same day, another woman of Vietnamese origin with the same last name, Thanh Van Vo, was due to have a contraceptive device known as a coil removed from her uterus.
Vo did not speak French and her gynecologist mistook her for the other. He pierced her amniotic sac, making a therapeutic abortion necessary.
Vo filed the case with the European court in December 1999.