Ireland must amend abortion laws after sharp UN criticism

Credit: Demotix



24 July 2014

The Irish authorities must take urgent action to bring the country’s flawed abortion laws in line with its international human rights obligations, Amnesty International said following the UN Human Rights Committee’s strongly worded criticism of the Ireland’s stance on abortion.

The UN Committee, which monitors states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, found today that Irish abortion laws violate human rights and are in serious breach of the country’s international obligations.

It stated its concern that terminating a pregnancy is criminalized in most circumstances in the country, carrying a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Women and girls who, for example, have been raped, who are carrying a non-viable pregnancy or whose health is at risk, are forced to either carry the pregnancy to term or travel outside the country to obtain abortions.

"Today's observations by the UN Human Rights Committee send a crystal clear signal to Ireland that its abortion legislation is completely out of kilter with international human rights law. Criminalizing access to sexual and reproductive health care and information is unlawful and discriminates against women and girls," said John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme.

"Ireland can no longer get away with criminalizing abortion and relying on the fact that some women and girls can travel abroad to access their lawful right to an abortion. This amounts to shirking its obligation to ensure access to safe and legal abortions as required under international human rights law," said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director, Amnesty International Ireland.

The UN body criticized the recently enacted Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013 for its discriminatory impact on women and girls who cannot travel abroad for an abortion, and the excessive scrutiny to which pregnant and suicidal women and girls will be subjected by medical professionals. The law imposes extremely narrow restrictions on access to abortion, and the Committee was critical of the lack of legal and procedural clarity on what constitutes a risk to the life as opposed to the health of the woman or girl.

“The Act leaves women and girls in a very vulnerable situation when it comes to these life and death determinations,” said Colm O’Gorman.

The Committee’s recommendations also reflected the fear that some healthcare providers in Ireland face criminal sanctions for simply discussing options for abortion abroad with a pregnant woman or girl.

The Human Rights Committee called on Ireland to:
·        Revise its legislation on abortion, including its Constitution, to provide for additional exceptions in cases of rape, incest, serious risks to the health of the mother, or fatal foetal abnormality;
·        Swiftly adopt a national Guidance Document to clarify what constitutes a “real and substantive risk” to the life of the pregnant woman; and
·        Consider making more information on crisis pregnancy options available through a variety of channels, and ensure that healthcare providers who share information on safe abortion services abroad are not subject to criminal sanctions.  

“Amnesty International calls on Ireland to commit to implementing the Committee’s recommendations, and to the full decriminalisation of abortion,” said Colm O’Gorman.

Separately, the Committee also criticised Ireland’s investigation of institutional abuse of women and children going back decades. It recommended that the Irish authorities conduct prompt, independent and thorough investigations into all allegations of abuse in Magdalene Laundries, children’s institutions and “mother and baby homes”, prosecute and punish the perpetrators and ensure that all victims obtain an effective remedy.

Amnesty International has previously urged the Irish government to ensure that its pending independent Commission of Investigation into “mother and baby homes” results in an effective and comprehensive inquiry that is fully compliant with Ireland’s human rights obligations.

The Committee also called on Ireland to ensure that the newly created national human rights institution, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, has a safe and stable budget and sufficient autonomy to carry out its work effectively and independently.

“Ireland’s international reputation and standing will suffer if the Irish government does not take steps to ensure that it complies with international law. Those who experienced abuses in mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries and other institutions deserve truth justice and reparation. Confronting, acknowledging and dealing with this legacy of past human rights abuses is essential," said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director, Amnesty International Ireland.

See also:
Amnesty International raised a number of these issues with the Human Rights Committee

My Body My Rights is Amnesty International's global campaign to stop the control and criminalisation of sexuality and reproduction by governments on others. Over 2014-2015 the campaign is working for change in people's lives in a number of countries, including Ireland. This campaign aims to remind world leaders of their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil sexual and reproductive rights. For more information see:

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