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Irish Woman Forced to Travel Abroad for Abortion Brings Case to United Nations

(PRESS RELEASE) Today the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case before the United Nations Human Rights Committee on behalf of Amanda Mellet who, due to Ireland’s restrictive abortion law, was forced to travel to the United Kingdom to obtain safe and legal abortion services after she received a fatal fetal anomaly diagnosis during her pregnancy.

The Center filed today’s petition to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to hold Ireland accountable for violating Amanda’s basic human rights by subjecting her to severe mental suffering after being unable to access a termination of pregnancy in her own country.

Said Johanna Westeson, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Rather than being provided with the best medical care possible, Irish women with nonviable pregnancies are instead cruelly denied the option of safely and legally ending their pregnancy.

“Because of Ireland’s harsh policies, Amanda was forced to travel like a fugitive to the United Kingdom to obtain legal abortion services and was essentially shamed for the only medical option that made sense to her.

“Without the strength and means to travel, Amanda would have been forced to carry to term, fearing every minute her fetus had died in utero or that she would give birth only to watch her baby die.

“We hope the Human Rights Committee will find that Ireland must amend its extreme abortion law—so women facing serious pregnancy complications can access safe and legal abortions in their own country.”

In May 2011, Amanda Mellet discovered she was pregnant. At 22 weeks of pregnancy she and her husband, James, found out that the fetus had Edwards’ syndrome, a fatal abnormality. They were shocked to learn that Ireland does not allow legal abortion for nonviable pregnancies and were told by a midwife at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin that couples in their situation opt to, as she put it, “travel.” Neither the midwife nor the doctors explained what “traveling” would entail.

Amanda and James then went through an onerous process to organize their trip and the abortion in the United Kingdom. After an almost week long medical process, a hospital in Liverpool safely terminated Amanda’s pregnancy on December 2, 2011. She had an adverse reaction to pain medication which left her weak, bleeding and struggling not to faint on the flight back to Dublin the next day. A month later, Amanda’s only follow up appointment at Rotunda Hospital was a routine checkup from a midwife. She never received adequate post-abortion care and was not offered bereavement counseling from the hospital. Throughout the process, Amanda felt abandoned and judged by the Irish health care system. To this day, Amanda suffers from grief and trauma over how abysmally she was treated by her country during this difficult time.

“How can it be justified that a pregnant woman must sneak over to England like a criminal to do what she feels is the most humane thing?” said Amanda. “Words simply cannot express the depths of my hurt and anger over what James and I went through. We are begging the United Nations Human Rights Committee to order Ireland to allow women with nonviable pregnancies access to safe and legal abortion in our homeland. Our country should not force women and couples to go through this additional pain, stress, strain and shame of travelling.” 

On July 30, Ireland passed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, which clarifies the conditions for legal abortion, as called for by the European Court of Human Rights in a 2010 judgment. The law allows legal abortions only for women whose pregnancies threaten their lives. Women like Amanda, who experience nonviable pregnancies, do not have a right to abortion. Nor do women pregnant from rape or incest or women whose pregnancies pose serious health problems.

As shown repeatedly, a legal regime that allows abortion only when the woman’s life is threatened, as distinct from her health, often is unworkable and dangerous in practice. Ireland’s new law does not allow for abortion when there is a serious health risk. Human rights standards establish that abortion should be legal at the very least when the life or health of the woman is in danger, and also when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or in cases of serious fetal anomaly.

“Ireland’s current abortion law offers only the bare minimum protection for women’s lives, and does nothing to protect the health of women facing complications during their pregnancies that are not life-threatening,” said Luisa Cabal, vice president of programs at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The United Nations Human Rights Committee must call on Ireland to expand women’s access to essential reproductive health care as mandated under human rights law.”