The European Court of Human Rights is due to rule on whether the Irish Republic’s anti-abortion laws violate women’s human rights.
The case was brought to the Strasbourg-based court by three Irish women who say their health was put at risk by having to travel abroad for abortions.
Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless the woman’s life is in danger.
If the court rules in favour of the three women, Ireland will be obliged to change its laws.
The issue has divided the deeply Catholic nation.
Ireland has become much more liberal and secular in recent years, says the BBC’s Mark Simpson in Dublin, but there is still strong opposition to abortion in many quarters.
It is estimated that more than 4,000 Irish women every year have an abortion overseas, most of them in England.
The lawyers for the three women have argued that having to leave Ireland for an abortion was humiliating and caused them distress and health complications.
Their identity has been kept confidential, but two are Irish and one is a Lithuanian national living in Ireland. They are known only as A, B and C.
They went to the UK to have abortions after becoming pregnant unintentionally. One woman was at risk of an ectopic pregnancy, where the foetus develops outside the womb, while another woman was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
The third was a former alcoholic who feared having another child would jeopardise her chances of getting her first four children out of foster care.
If the court rules in the women’s favour, as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights the Republic of Ireland would be obliged to accept any changes to its law the court recommends.
But the court could rule that medical treatment and advice were available in Ireland or that the women did not take their case first to the Irish courts, as the Convention requires.
The Irish government has argued that in the past the Convention has recognised individual state’s traditions regarding the rights of unborn children and that the country’s abortion laws were based on “profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society”.
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