Calls to name date for vote on abortion

The offer of compensation to a woman who successfully complained to the United Nations about Ireland’s abortion laws, is a recognition by the State that she was subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment because she was forced to travel to seek an abortion, the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has said.

However, NWCI also said the Government needs to set a date for a referendum on the Eight Amendment, instead of just continuing to compensate women.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the Government was offering a payment of €30,000 and appropriate psychological services to Amanda Mellet.

Ms Mellet filed a case with the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) at the end of 2013, after she was forced to travel to Liverpool for an abortion when her foetus was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality on its 21-week scan in November 2011.

The UN committee ruled last June that Ms Mellet had been subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” as a result of Ireland’s abortion ban. It made three recommendations: that Ms Mellet be compensated, offered rehabilitation and that the law be reformed.

“The actions by the minister today have a wider significance. It’s an admission that the Government is failing women in Ireland in a horrendous manner and subjecting them to what is now recognised as inhumane and degrading treatment,” Orla O’Connor, director of NWCI said. “The NWCI is calling on the Government to announce a date for a referendum (on the Eight Amendment).”

The Eight Amendment, which amended Article 40 of the Constitution in 1983, acknowledges “the right to life of the unborn, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother”.

Leah Proctor, who is the regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights and who represented Ms Mellet, told the Irish Examiner the UN committee will continue to monitor Ireland’s legal regime.

“In our view, it is likely the committee will continue to scrutinise and monitor the Government’s compliance and implementation of this decision until the law reform has been completed,” Ms Proctor said.

She said the Government implemented only two of the committee’s three recommendations in its finding against the State.

It had 180 days from last June to implement the three recommendations of law reform and rehabilitation and compensation for Ms Mellet.

The State is due to report back to the UN committee on December 6.

Mr Harris, in his statement, cited the ongoing Citizens’ Assembly in terms of the State’s legislative response to the UN committee.

“The Government has established a Citizen’s Assembly, in line with its Programme for Partnership Government commitment to consider a number of matters including constitutional reform,” he said. “Under the Assembly’s terms of reference they are directed to first consider the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Article 40.3.3) and their conclusions on the matter will be submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas for further debate by Parliament.”

The offer of compensation to Ms Mellet was welcomed widely by various groups yesterday, including the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), Coalition to Repeal the Eight Amendment and Amnesty International.

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