UN says UK violates women's human rights by criminalising abortions in Northern Ireland

UN says UK violates women's human rights by criminalising abortions in Northern Ireland
File photo of abortion campaigners.

The UK violates women's human rights by criminalising abortions in Northern Ireland, a UN committee has said.

The country has strict restrictions covering cases like rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

The UN Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women said great harm and suffering was caused by carrying unwanted pregnancies full term.

It said: "The systematic nature of the violations stems from the deliberate retention of criminal laws and state policy disproportionately restricting access to sexual and reproductive rights, in general, and highly restrictive abortion provision, in particular.

"Westminster and Northern Ireland authorities acknowledge the magnitude of the phenomenon and choose to export it to England where Northern Ireland women travel to access abortions."

Women receive free terminations in other parts of the UK, including those who travel from Northern Ireland.

The report added: "The Committee assesses the gravity of the violations in Northern Ireland in light of the suffering experienced by women and girls who carry pregnancies to full term against their will due to the current restrictive legal regime on abortion.

"It notes the great harm and suffering resulting from the physical and mental anguish of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to full term, especially in cases of rape, incest and severe foetal impairment.

"The situation gives Northern Ireland women three deplorable options: (a) undergo a torturous experience of being compelled to carry a pregnancy to full term; (b) engage in illegal abortion and risk imprisonment and stigmatisation; or, (c) undertake a highly stressful journey outside Northern Ireland to access a legal abortion.

"Women are thus torn between complying with discriminatory laws that unduly restrict abortion or risk prosecution and imprisonment."

Human Rights Commission chief commissioner Les Allamby said the situation was wrong and violated women's human rights.

The Commission brought a case on the issue to the UK Supreme Court.

The UN committee report called on the UK Government to change the law to decriminalise abortion and to provide greater access to abortion for women and girls in Northern Ireland.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's campaigns manager in Northern Ireland, said: "This damning report from the United Nations confirms what Amnesty has long said, Northern Ireland's draconian abortion laws are a daily violation of the rights of women and girls.

"The UN committee is very clear that it is the UK Government which is responsible for ensuring that our laws are in line with the state's international human rights obligations.

"Devolution, even if functioning, does not relieve the UK Government of their responsibility to uphold human rights in Northern Ireland."

- PA

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