The international organisation Center for Reproductive Rights, which has taken successful cases against the US Government, is preparing a case, arguing Ireland’s abortion regime is in violation of women’s human rights.
It will argue that forcing a woman to carry an unviable pregnancy or to travel to terminate a pregnancy with no chance of survival outside of the womb is in breach of the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
Center for Reproductive Rights is putting together the case in conjunction with Terminations for Medical Reasons, which campaigned to have fatal foetal abnormalities included in the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act, which was passed through the Oireachtas last month.
The group is seeking a meeting with Health Minister James Reilly and Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who they also want to provide legal clarity on transporting foetuses back to Ireland following terminations in Britain.
Couples who travelled to terminate unviable pregnancies said they had to carry the corpse back in the boot of their car to bury in Ireland, or have the ashes of their deceased baby delivered by couriers.
A number of senior ministers, including Mr Shatter, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said they would like to legislate to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, but it was not constitutionally possible in the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.
“We are tired of a lot of sympathy but little action,” said James Burke of TMR. “We would like the Government to meet with us, to sit down and discuss ways that we can make this journey for people who have to travel as easy as possible.”
The group said Mr Reilly was very supportive of them the last time they met him. Now they want him to agree to follow up support in Ireland for women carrying fatal foetal abnormalities who travel for abortions. They also want to discuss the possibility of financial support and records being kept of the number of such cases.
Mr Burke criticised Labour Party ministers who said they could not deal with the issue in the lifetime of this Government, but will look at it in the next Coalition term. “It’s really upsetting that it is becoming an election issue,” said Mr Burke. “Labour are saying vote for us and we’ll do it next.”
The Government could face criticism from the UN over its failure to include such cases in the latest legislation.
A case outlining the experiences of around 15 women is being prepared and Johanna Westeston, the European Director of the Centre for Reproductive Rights, believes there is a good chance the UN will find Ireland in violation of their rights.
“Our main claim is this is cruel, inhumane, and degrading,” said Ms Westeson. “This is a right that is a subset of the right to be free from torture. It’s a very powerful human right.”
The UN has no power to force the Government to act, but any finding against Ireland would be a major embarrassment.
“This is not a quick fix but it is a very powerful mechanism in that it will show very, very clearly how off-track Ireland is when it comes to women’s rights,” said Ms Westeson.