Europe's Roe v. Wade?

Ireland is cautious when it comes to defending its stance against abortion. Voters approved the Lisbon treaty on EU integration earlier this year only after stringent guarantees from other EU countries that EU law would not force Ireland to relinquish its ban on the procedure, which was backed by a 1983 referendum.

So, after all that, it's ironic that the challenge to its constitutionally enshrined "right to life of the unborn" is instead coming in the form of a human rights case before a different European body: the 47-member Council of Europe. The case could have continent-wide implications, if the European Court of Human Rights rules in favor of the three women bringing the case, establishing some protection of abortions sought on medical grounds.

As a signatory of the European Human Rights Convention, Ireland would have to change its laws if the court finds in favor of the women -- identified as A, B and C in the court documents. Abortion is currently permitted only in cases of significant risk to the mother, but the women's lawyer argued today that even in those cases abortion is effectively out of reach due to doctor's fear or unwillingness to risk falling afoul the narrow parameters allowed.

The court's ruling, expected in a few months, might have implications for other EU countries, such as Poland and Malta, which have very restrictive abortion laws. Two years ago, the same court found in favor of a Polish woman denied an abortion despite medical recognition that the pregnancy endangered her eyesight, forcing the government to pay her compensation and provide a legal framework for access to lawful, medical need abortions.


Local Russian election result overturned by court

In an unusual turn of events, a Russian court has overturned the result of a mayoral election in the city of Derbent. Reportedly, riot police used tear gas and shot at voters, preventing them from entering polling stations. Threats were made to local election officials, frightening them enough that more than a third of the polling stations never opened.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that it is "extremely rare" for an election to be overturned, and that in the past cases, judicial interventions were seen as Kremlin machinations to oust successful opposition candidates. That makes the current decision even more noteworthy, since the incumbent, a member of the dominant United Russia party (UR), officially carried the election with 67.52 percent of the vote.

It's worth asking if the case is linked to a power struggle between Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, who, in the 2012 elections, will be eligible to run for a third term as president. There has been growing speculation about a possible rift between the two men, even though Medvedev has said that he and his former political guardian would "agree on how not to elbow each other out and make a decision that is useful for the country."

Vanity Fair dubbed Putin the world's most influential person in 2007; Forbes puts him at #3 in 2009, topped only by Hu Jintao and Obama. UR is Putin's powerbase - after stepping down as president, he became the party's chairman. And it's a powerful group indeed, controlling 70 percent of the parliament's seats and exerting enormous influence on the country.

Putin handpicked Medvedev as his successor, tying him inextricably to UR. But since coming to office, Medvedev has also consolidated his own supporters, replacing officials appointed by Putin with his own men and women. And this court decision comes just days after Medvedev sharply addressed the UR's 11th Congress, making clear allusions to electoral fraud: "Sadly, some regional divisions of United Russia. . . show signs of backwardness and concentrate their political activity on intrigues and games within the apparatus," he said. That intrigue will no longer be tolerated, he suggested, saying "such people need to go, as do some other political customs."

But Medvedev's track record doesn't scream "liberal democrat!" The best indication of what to expect in 2012 might be Putin's take on elections in general, as he phrased it back in 1998. "One has to be insincere and promise something which you cannot fulfill," he said. "So you either have to be a fool who does not understand what you are promising, or deliberately be lying."

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