State must respond to UN committee’s concerns
‘Long past time for safe and legal abortion services to be made available’
Pro- choice protesters outside the Dail during the debate on the abortion / Protection of Life Bill. Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES
The trenchant criticism by the UN Human Rights Committee, which published its concluding observations yesterday, places yet another dark cloud over Ireland’s human rights record and echoes the experiences of women with unplanned pregnancies or whose pregnancies have become a crisis by virtue of being denied abortion services in their own country. The committee has extended these women a degree of respect and dignity – something the State has failed to provide – by affirming that Ireland’s abortion laws are in violation of human rights.
The committee described as “severe mental suffering” the denial of abortion services to women in Ireland and criticised the “discriminatory impact” of the State’s reliance on women travelling abroad to access necessary healthcare services, in particular for those women without the resources to travel.
The thousands of women who use the Irish Family Planning Association’s counselling and medical services each year, and the thousands more who travel to the UK and other countries for an abortion, do not speak the language of international human rights but what they say amounts to the same thing: it is long past time for the Government to make safe and legal abortion services available in Ireland.
Women who access our services do not use the committee’s language of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”, but they tell us about such treatment every day. They do not talk about “discrimination”, but describe how they are abandoned by a State that stigmatises them, treats them as criminals and forces them to leave their country for health services denied to them.
During its formal review by the committee, the State attempted to justify its abdication of responsibility to women by pointing to the right to travel for abortion and to access information about abortion. When questioned by the experts on the discriminatory nature of these laws, whereby only those with resources can exercise their right to travel, the State replied that “we have no solution to that” and “we have not been challenged to make a change to legislation”.
State blaming womenIn every other area of healthcare in Ireland, the onus for ensuring access to services lies with the State. Yet when it comes to a woman’s right to seek an abortion, the State justifies its failure to provide services by blaming women with unplanned pregnancies for not challenging the law.
Many women who use our services tell us that the legal, physical and financial obstacles of travelling for an abortion are insurmountable. These are women on low income or in poverty, women experiencing violence, women with disabilities, young women, women living in State care and asylum-seeking women. They cannot or will not speak publicly to claim their rights. Their voices are not heard.