UN: Irish abortion law treats women as ‘vessels’

Frances Fitzgerald: Was in Geneva for the hearing.
Frances Fitzgerald: Was in Geneva for the hearing.

Irish abortion law treats women as a vessel and nothing more, the UN’s human rights committee chair and former UN special rapporteur on torture told the Government.

The State was forced to apologise and withdraw remarks suggesting human rights could be limited or withdrawn if this was sought by a majority of people, when addressing the abortion issue.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was in Geneva with a team of civil servants giving an account of how Ireland was meeting the demands of the UN’s human rights covenant.

But the committee accused the State of failing to take responsibility for what it suggested amounted to crimes against women and children. They named the Magdalene laundries, the mother and baby homes, child abuse, and symphysiotomy, as “quite a collection,” and one that had continued for a length of time “that it’s hard to imagine any state party tolerating”.

The State had concentrated on material redress rather than taking responsibility for its failures, said the UN’s human rights committee chair Nigel Rodley in an excoriating summing-up that focused on symphysiotomy and abortion.

He blamed the Catholic Church’s historical perspective on women, which dominated the State, referring to it as “the institutional belief system”.

But he also accused the law on abortion as treating women “as a vessel and nothing more”, referring to the ban on abortion for a person who has been raped.

He also accused anti-abortion groups who addressed the committee of “breathtaking arrogance” about the meaning of the right to life in the UN’s covenant.

The Irish Council of Civil Liberties said they wholeheartedly endorsed his comments, which were also welcomed by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Designate.

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