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United Nations: Ireland Must Expand Access To Safe And Legal Abortion Services

(PRESS RELEASE) A United Nations (U.N.) Committee has ordered Ireland to amend its law and constitution to legalize abortion services for pregnant women facing serious threats to their health, as well as in cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal impairment.

In its recommendations, the U.N. Human Rights Committee explicitly recognized the severe mental suffering caused by the denial of abortion services to women seeking abortions due to rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities or serious risks to their health. It also criticized the burdensome procedures women must endure to have doctors certify that the pregnancy poses a threat to their life, and cited the discriminatory and disproportionate impact the restrictive law has on women who are unable to travel abroad to access safe and legal abortion services.

The Committee already told the Irish government to amend its abortion law—which only allows legal abortion when there is a “real and substantial risk to the life of a pregnant woman”—after its periodic reviews in 2000 and 2008. While the Irish government pointed to the recent adoption of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, today the United Nations told the government that the law is wholly inadequate and does not comply with the country’s human rights obligations. 

Said Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“When a woman needs safe, legal abortion services, she should be able to depend on her government to provide her with that essential medical care and necessary information.  

“Yet women in Ireland continually suffer the indignity of choosing between carrying their pregnancy to term—regardless of the harm and risk to their lives—or traveling abroad to a neighboring country.

“The Committee’s recommendations send a clear message to the Irish government: the recent abortion law reform is too little too late.  The Irish government must immediately work to amend its law to expand access to safe and legal abortion and respect the basic human rights of all women.”

The U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed Ireland as part of its oversight of states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty obligating member states to ensure equal enjoyment of all civil and political rights, including the rights to life and to be free from torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and paid extensive attention to the very restrictive abortion law.

During the review, the Irish government admitted that not only are women without certain financial resources unable to travel, officials have no solution or plan to address the situation. In response, the Committee demanded that the government undertake the required reforms to protect women’s rights to life, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, privacy, and equality and non-discrimination. These reforms are not only required by the ICCPR, they are also broadly supported by the Irish people giving the government ample reason to proceed with the necessary abortion law reforms.

In the last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed two challenges to Ireland’s abortion law before the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The Center filed these cases on behalf of two women, Amanda Mellet and Siobhán Whelan, who were forced by Ireland’s harsh abortion policies to travel to the United Kingdom to obtain safe and legal abortion services after they were diagnosed with fatal fetal anomalies.

The Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a report to the Committee about the severe physical and mental anguish women have suffered as a result of Ireland’s restrictive abortion law. The full Concluding Observations from the U.N. Human Rights Committee can be found here.