Irish women's human rights are being "violated" by abortion laws which are taking a "serious toll" on their mental and physical health, Amnesty International has claimed today.
The international NGO has launched a major report this morning calling for the Eighth Amendment to be amended or repealed.
It says Irish abortion legislation is among the most "restrictive" in the world, and forces over 4,000 women and girls abroad every year.
Amnesty’s "She Is Not A Criminal" report includes the case studies of several women who have travelled to the UK for terminations, including many who say they suffered miscarriages and were forced to carry dead or unviable foetuses for weeks in the hope of getting treatment at home.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said the situation is completely unacceptable.
"Ireland is outsourcing its human rights obligations," he said. "The trauma and stigma that is attached to it is huge."
The report claims that human rights obligations require the decriminalization of abortion, and that States at least ensure access to abortion when a woman’s life and physical and mental health is in danger, in cases of rape or incest and in cases of severe and fatal foetal impairment.
The report points out that Ireland’s abortion law fails to comply with these human rights obligations.
The long history of the criminalization of abortion in Ireland is presented in the report as part of a broader social and political environment in which women and girls have been subject to strict, punitive social controls around their sexuality, in law, policy and practice.
This history of institutionalized violence has produced a strong sense of stigma surrounding abortion in Ireland, according to the report, which is supported by case studies.
The on-going lack of clarity in the law, and the threat of professional sanction and criminal prosecution for health care providers and any one else assisting them, means that pregnant women and girls in need of an abortion for medical reasons are essentially forced to wait until their condition deteriorates sufficiently in order to justify a medical intervention.
The narrow construction of Ireland’s life exception means that longer-term risks to the life of a pregnant girl or woman, such as cancer or heart disease, are not covered by the legislation.
“You cannot legislate for real and substantial risk, it is too grey a line, it’s too risky,” said Dr Mark Murphy, a GP and member of Doctors for Choice.
“Will a woman who is unwell with heart disease or cancer still have to travel [abroad for abortion services]? Is that a real and substantial risk to her life? No. She will still have to travel,” said Dr Murphy.
“How close to death do you have to be? There is no answer to that. What needs to be done is to legislate to allow abortion when there is a serious threat to a mother’s health, as opposed to life, and the law [must] take into account a woman’s position and what risks she is willing to accept; that depends on the woman,” said Dr. Peter Boylan, obstetrician/gynaecologist, former Master and Clinical Director of the National Maternity Hospital, Ireland. “The law does not make any allowance for input from the woman as to what a risk is.”
.@amnesty report on Ireland's abortion regime is damning, but tells us nothing new. The really shocking thing is the political inaction.— Colette Browne (@colettebrowne) June 9, 2015
The report also states that although the right to travel has been repeatedly reaffirmed in the courts, not all women and girls are able to exercise the freedom to travel abroad for an abortion. Marginalized women and girls, such as asylum-seekers, migrants and those living in poverty, may be trapped in Ireland, without access to abortion, potentially inciting women to seek illegal, and potentially unsafe abortions; commit suicide; or access medical abortion illegally.
Additionally, marginalized populations of women and girls are generally at greater risk of sexual violence, yet have more limited access generally to healthcare, and may find the costs and logistics of travel to access abortion prohibitive.
“Our Constitution is profoundly hypocritical. It protects women to go abroad for something that is outlawed here,” said Dr. Peter Boylan.
Without the “safety valve” of travel, and the close proximity of countries where abortion is legal on broader grounds, the report claims that Ireland would likely have been faced with the high rates of mortality and morbidity from unsafe abortion that plague other countries with highly restrictive abortion laws.
Although medication such as mifepristone or misoprostol, can be purchased illegally to induce a medical abortion, the fact that the act is criminalized will lead women to undertake the practice without medical supervision, potentially resulting in serious health complications.
Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland claims that access to abortion is a core aspect of women’s right to health and of women’s reproductive rights.
“The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, the first piece of legislation on abortion in Ireland, fails to properly protect women’s lives and further criminalises women who access abortion services,” said Ms O’Connor.
“Of the thousands who travel, there was a concern that a cohort would [use the PLDPA’s suicide exception to] seek terminations in already overrun services but that thankfully hasn’t happened; we haven’t seen a traffic jam to Dublin.” - Dr. Sam Coulter-Smith, Master of the Rotunda Hospital135
“Everyone has to make the best decision for them and their family, but let’s acknowledge that it is happening instead of exporting the problem and thinking that it’s okay as long as the British hospitals keep accepting us and then saying that there is no abortion in Ireland.” - Lily, who travelled to England in 2012 to terminate her pregnancy following a diagnosis of a fatal foetal impairment295
The Pro Life Campaign have criticised the Amnesty report today.
“Not for the first time, Amnesty Ireland is being highly selective over which aspects of the abortion debate it is prepared to campaign on. With the launch of its latest campaign, Amnesty Ireland is moving further and further away from its roots as a highly respected and impartial champion of the most vulnerable and defenceless members of society,” said Cora Sherlock, Deputy Chairperson of the Pro Life Campaign.