Ireland's longstanding abortion legislation could change due to a ruling expected to be handed down by the European Court of Human Rights next week.

When two Irish women and one Lithuanian woman who were forced to travel to Britain for abortions they took the action against the Irish state five years ago.

The three women, who were supported by the Irish Family Planning Association, claimed the inability to have an abortion in Ireland breached their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, which Ireland originally signed up to in the 1960's.

The three women claimed that the limited abortion law in Ireland means they are being discriminated against, and that the state contravenes their rights under the convention. All three said they experienced medical complication when they returned to Ireland.

Their case was eventually heard last December in the court's Grand Chamber with 17 judges presiding and on Thursday they are expected to give their final judgment.

Currently abortion is only available in Ireland if the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman. It's estimated that about 5,000 women a year give an Irish address when they have abortions in Britain, but many more give British addresses. The Irish Family Planning Association believe that several hundred more Irish women also travel to the Netherlands and Spain for abortions.

The court is attached to the Council of Europe and has no relationship with the European Union. Any ruling the court makes will be legally binding on Ireland.