The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) said this should include holding a referendum on the issue.
In its concluding observations on the third periodic report of Ireland to the Committee, the CESCR said it was concerned at Ireland’s “highly restrictive” legislation and its “strict interpretation”.
“It is particularly concerned at the criminalisation of abortion, including in the cases of rape and incest and of risk to the health of a pregnant woman; the lack of legal and procedural clarity on what constitutes a real substantive risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the pregnant woman; and the discriminatory impact on women who cannot afford to get an abortion abroad or access to the necessary information. It is further concerned at the limited access to information on sexual and reproductive health,” said the report.
The finding comes after two days of hearings on Ireland’s human rights regime at the committee in Geneva earlier this month.
Executive director of the Irish Council on Civil Liberties (ICCL) Mark Kelly, labelled the report a “biting criticism of Ireland” and said it was the second time in a year that a UN body has called on Ireland to change its laws on abortion.
“The Government simply cannot continue to ignore what has become plain and obvious to those charged with monitoring Ireland’s adherence to its human rights obligations, Ireland’s abortion laws do not work, cannot protect vulnerable women and girls and will not stem the need for access to safe and legal abortions now or in the future,” he said.
However, the Pro Life Campaign hit out at the CESCR report and said it was “stretching credibility for the UN to claim to represent genuine human rights in any real way”.
The CESCR report also called on the State to phase out austerity measures and restore pre-crisis levels of public services, a call welcomed by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).
Its chief commissioner Emily Logan said the CESCR agreed with IHREC view that austerity measures were brought in without an assessment of their impact on economic, social and cultural rights.
“In our report, the Commission said that the burden of the crisis had disproportionately fallen on those least able to bear its impact. The UN Committee’s assessment confirms our view. It has concluded that the State’s response to the crisis has been disproportionately focused on cuts to public expenditure, in the areas of housing, social security, health care and education,” she said.
Director general of the Free Legal Advice Centres, Noeline Blackwell, welcomed the UN findings and noted its “grave concerns at the consequences of austerity measures in Ireland, with a focus on groups most impacted, some of whom had already been severely disadvantaged before the recession and some who were made poor during it”.
The National Women's Council of Ireland said it came as no surprise that yet another international body had shamed Ireland's record on women's rights.