UN urged to hold Ireland to account for 'violating human rights of abortion seekers'

UN urged to hold Ireland to account for 'violating human rights of abortion seekers'

Supporters gathered at Dublin Castle as the Eighth Amendment was backed on May 26, 2018. File picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Irish abortion rights organisations are urging the UN to hold Ireland to account for “violating the human rights of abortion seekers”.

The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), Abortion Support Network (ASN), and Termination for Medical Reasons (TFMR) have submitted a report to the UN outlining how they say the State is failing to protect human rights.

The submission comes ahead of a universal periodic review of human rights in Ireland by the UN tomorrow.

During the 2016 review process, Ireland accepted the UN recommendation to “examine whether article 40.3.3 of the Constitution (the Eighth amendment) could be revised and the legal framework related to abortion broadened”.

In its national report to the UN General Assembly, the Irish Human Rights Council outline the changes in abortion law since the previous review in 2016, namely the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in 2018, and the enactment of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act in 2019.

The act provides for abortion on request up to 12 weeks, and only in extremely limited circumstances after 12 weeks: Emergencies, when pregnancy poses a "risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health" of the pregnant person, or when a "condition [is] likely to lead to death of fetus" before or within 28 days of birth.

It is an offence to intentionally end the life of a foetus save in accordance with the legislation, but offence provisions do not apply to a woman who has ended, or attempted to end, her own pregnancy. The act provides universal (free) access to termination of pregnancy services for people ordinarily resident in the State.

Act 'falls short'

The joint submission by ARC, ASN, and TFMR says that this act “falls short of human rights standards”.

They assert that by failing to ensure abortion is accessible, and by forcing people to leave the country to obtain certain abortion-related care, the State is breaching people’s rights to health, privacy, equality, and non-discrimination.

The UN Human Rights Committee has previously found that requiring individuals to travel outside of Ireland to obtain abortion care for non-viable pregnancies is cruel, inhuman, and degrading, in the Mellet and Whelan cases.

“It is grossly unacceptable that our human rights are still being breached three years after Repeal. Ireland must act to vindicate the human rights of abortion seekers,” said JoAnne Neary of ARC.

“Many of these human rights violations are embedded in the legislation, which is riddled with delays and barriers to safe access. These must be addressed in the review — we deserve human rights-compliant legislation.” 

Claire Cullen-Delsol of TFMR and LMC Bereavement said they are hearing from more people now than they did before Repeal. 

“The Irish State needs to care for people at home," she said.

"It cannot keep exiling people and couples who decide to obtain abortion care rather than wait for a non-viable pregnancy to end on its own or bring a child into the world whose brief life would be marked by constant suffering. 

Every time someone contacts us, they say, ‘we can’t believe this is happening; we thought we voted for Ireland to change’.” 

ASN founder Mara Clarke said the clients it has helped since 2019 are often further along in pregnancy. 

“ASN has had at least 26 calls for help from people who had one or more failed medical abortions in Ireland but were sent away once they passed the 12-week cut-off, which is in our opinion State-mandated medical negligence. 

"We’ve also helped a number of people who needed visas to travel for care. While fewer residents of Ireland are calling us, those who do are facing multiple obstacles — and that’s before you add the complexity and expense of travelling during a pandemic,” she said.

ARC, ASN, and TFMR are calling on the State, in their joint submission, to “fulfil its obligation to affirm and facilitate access to abortion care as a human right for all residents of the State”.

Ireland will be examined by the Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

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