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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Europe rejects foetal rights bid
pregnant woman
The case centred on the unborn baby's right to life
A woman whose pregnancy was wrongly terminated in a French hospital has lost her fight at the European Court to enshrine a foetus' right to life.

Mrs Thi-Nho Vo went to the court after French courts said the doctor could not be prosecuted for homicide as the foetus did not have the right to life.

She said it had that right under the European Convention on Human Rights.

But the Court of Human Rights ruled against her, and involuntary abortion did not constitute manslaughter.

It's a disgraceful situation
Nuala Scarisbrick, Life

The ruling sets a precedent on the legal status of unborn babies that will be applied across European countries

Campaigners had warned abortion rights could be affected if Mrs Vo won her case.

The UK's Family Planning Association had warned that if Mrs Vo were to win her case, Britain's abortion laws could be invalidated and even the legality of the morning after pill, which stops a fertilised egg implanting in the uterus, could be affected.

But abortion law experts said the court was likely to shy away from telling individual countries what the detail of their abortion laws should be.


In 1991, Mrs Vo, a French national of Vietnamese origin, went to the Hotel-Dieu hospital in Lyons for an examination when she was six months pregnant.

We are pleased that the judges have ruled to reject the applicant's case
Anne Weyman, Family Planning Association
On the same day, another woman, Thanh Van Vo, was due to have a coil removed at the same hospital.

The pregnant Mrs Vo, from Bourg-en-Bresse, could not speak French, and was unable to communicate with gynaecologist Francois Golfier.

He mistook her for the other Mrs Vo, and tried to remove a coil, piercing the amniotic sac and making it necessary for a therapeutic abortion to be carried out.

Dr Golfier was charged with unintentional homicide, the French equivalent of involuntary homicide.

He was acquitted of the charge, but convicted on appeal and sentenced to six months in prison and fined 10,000 francs.

But Dr Golfier then appealed to the court of cassation - France's highest court - which overturned the ruling on the grounds that the foetus was not a human being and not entitled to the protection of criminal law.

Legal status

Mrs Vo argued that the foetus is protected by article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees a right to life.

Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, said: "This was obviously a tragic individual case but we are pleased that the judges have ruled to reject the applicant's case to extend the right to life of the foetus under Article 2 of the Convention on Human Rights."

This court ruling is a slap in the face of humanity
Gordon, Tacoma, USA

She said the judgement would mean the laws on abortion throughout Europe would not have to change.

But Nuala Scarisbrick of the pro-life charity Life, told BBC News Online: "This is not a surprising decision. But it is a disgusting one. It is morally bankrupt."

"It's a disgraceful situation that a child of that stage, who is perfectly viable, is not given the right to life."

UK law allows an abortion to be carried out after 24 weeks if the child has a disability which means it would be born severely handicapped.

Q&A: Late abortions
01 Dec 03  |  Health
Europe's terms for terminations
02 Jun 02  |  Europe

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