The letter, part of an international campaign spearheaded by Amnesty International, includes Irish signatories, though the campaign is not specific to Ireland and is aimed at countries that have restrictions on abortion.
The letter originated within the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics and will be published internationally as part of Amnesty International’s ‘My Body My Rights’ campaign.
Irish-based signatories include Dr Veronica O’Keane, professor in psychiatry in Trinity College Dublin, and Dr Peter Boylan, consultant obstetrician at the National Maternity Hospital.
The letter claims: “Laws which ban or severely restrict abortion have a substantial negative impact on the health care women and girls receive, and exact a grave toll on their health and lives.
“When abortion is criminalised, the results are not safe childbirth and the well-being of families, but rather maternal mortality, morbidity among survivors, hazardous spontaneous miscarriage, or clandestine, unsafe abortions. This perpetuates poverty and devastates families. Evidence shows that health outcomes for women and girls are best where they have access to safe, legal, abortion.”
It also claims that globally, unsafe abortion accounts for 13% of maternal deaths and remains one of the leading causes of maternal mortality, and that the criminalisation of abortion prevents healthcare providers from delivering timely, medically indicated care.
It comes amid calls from campaigners for a repeal of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution.
Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “International law is clear: at the very least women and girls should have access to an abortion when the pregnancy poses a risk to their life or health, in cases of severe or fatal foetal impairment, and in cases of rape or incest. International law also says that under no circumstances should a woman be made a criminal for having an abortion.”
Amnesty also referenced a Red C poll of people in Ireland published last July in which 72% of people did not agree with the possible 14-year prison sentence for doctors if they provide or assist in providing an abortion other than when life is at risk.
The same poll said 64% of people did not know it was a crime for a woman to get an abortion when her life was not at risk.
Dr Boylan said: “Under the [current law] we must wait until women become sick enough before we can intervene. How close to death do you have to be? There is no answer to that.”
But David Quinn of the Iona Institute questioned why Amnesty had chosen to be so “partisan” on the issue of abortion, and said Ireland still had a lower maternal death rate than the UK, which has a markedly different approach to abortion.
“Abortion is never safe for the baby in the womb,” said Mr Quinn, adding he would be “surprised” if Amnesty’s approach to the issue had not alienated some of its broader support.
“There are people who would be supportive of Amnesty in the past who are pro-life who do not feel they can support Amnesty anymore.”