[identity profile] lynn82md.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] prochoice_maryland
LONDON — Ireland’s ban on most abortions subjects women to cruel, degrading and discriminatory treatment, and should be lifted in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities, a committee of United Nations human rights experts said on Thursday.

The committee found that Ireland had violated a pregnant woman’s human rights by forcing her to choose between carrying her fetus to term — knowing it would not survive — or traveling abroad for an abortion.

The committee urged Ireland to change its laws — “including, if necessary, its Constitution” — to allow abortions and to let medical providers give information on abortion services “without fearing being subjected to criminal sanctions.”

Although Ireland became the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote last year, it has some deeply conservative roots, and the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against abortion has not changed.

The case considered by the United Nations panel centered on a Dublin woman, Amanda Mellet, who subsequently started an advocacy group urging the legalization of abortion for medical reasons.


In November 2011, Ms. Mellet, who was then 21 weeks pregnant, learned that her fetus had congenital defects so severe that it would either die in the womb or shortly after birth.

Ireland’s ban on abortion meant that she had to choose “between continuing her nonviable pregnancy or traveling to another country while carrying a dying fetus, at personal expense and separated from the support of her family, and to return while not fully recovered,” the committee found.

Ms. Mellet traveled to England for an abortion and returned 12 hours after the procedure, because she could not afford to stay longer, the panel said. More than 3,400 Irish women and girls traveled to England or Wales for abortion services in 2015, according to the British Department of Health.

She had to leave the remains of the fetus behind, and “the ashes were unexpectedly delivered to her three weeks later by courier,” according to the United Nations experts.

Back in Ireland, Ms. Mellet was “denied the bereavement counseling and medical care available to women who miscarry,” the panel found.

“In addition to the shame and stigma associated with the criminalization of abortion of a fatally ill fetus,” the committee found, Ms. Mellet’s “suffering was aggravated by the obstacles she faced in getting information about the appropriate medical options.”

The panel urged Ireland to provide Ms. Mellet with “adequate compensation and psychological treatment she may need.”

The United Nations committee monitors countries’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty dating to 1966, to which Ireland is a party, but it does not have the power to compel countries to change their laws.

The committee is empowered to hear complaints filed directly by citizens of countries that are parties to the covenant.

Irish law allows health care providers to give patients information about abortion, but they face criminal sanctions if they give advice that could be interpreted as advocating or promoting the termination of a pregnancy. The committee found that the ban had a chilling effect on medical providers.

“We are studying these views, which we take seriously, and we are assessing the policy and legal implications,” Ireland’s health minister, Simon Harris, said in a statement on Thursday. “I have read the report from the U.N.H.R. Committee and find the experience this woman had deeply upsetting. I have met with families who have been through the trauma of knowing their baby will not survive and I have been very moved by hearing of their experiences. I want to see this issue addressed.”

In 1983, voters approved the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which enshrines “the right to life of the unborn.” In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion should be allowed when there is “a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother,” including from the threat of suicide.

The consequences of that ruling were murky for years.

In 2012, an Indian-born dentist, Savita Halappanavar, died after doctors refused to perform an abortion while she was having a miscarriage, prompting international outrage.

The next year, the Irish Parliament enshrined the Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling into law. But the law still does not allow abortions in cases of incest, rape, fetal abnormality or when there is no prospect of survival outside the womb.

On Thursday, Linda Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for the Abortion Rights Campaign, welcomed the United Nations committee’s findings.

“We commend the bravery of Amanda Mellet and all the women who have spoken out about their experiences of trying to get an abortion, but women should not have to look to international bodies to uphold their basic rights,” she said. “How many times does the state need to be told that its abortion laws are in violation of international human rights law before it takes action? How many more women need to travel?”

Sinead Kennedy, a professor at Maynooth University who has studied abortion in Ireland, predicted that the findings “will dramatically increase the pressure on the Irish government to hold a referendum to repeal Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion.” She added that “in Ireland, as in every country where abortion is restricted, it is poor and migrant women who must bear the brunt of these laws.”

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