Watchdog 'concerned' for women's health
Abortion must be decriminalised and made safely available to women where continuing the pregnancy would put their health at risk, the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Health has warned.
Anand Grover, speaking in Dublin today, also said the the mother’s right to life was “more important than the right to life of an unborn whose life is conditional on a safe delivery”.
Mr Grover, who was addressing a seminar on women’s right to health hosted by the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said he was “particularly concerned about [the situation of women in] Ireland".
Following the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital in October, apparently following the refusal of her repeated requests for a termination of the 17-week pregnancy she was miscarrying, he said he looked in detail into the abortion situation here.
“You cannot afford to lose people’s lives like this. It would not have happened in India. There is a lot of distress and discussion in India about [Ms Halappanavar’s death]. Maybe out of this tragedy something good will come.”
In India, he said, a woman could have an abortion up to 16 weeks if her physical or mental health were at risk in the opinion of one doctor and up to 20 weeks if her health was at risk in the opinion of two doctors.
Mr Grover is a human rights lawyer who as UN Rapporteur reports to the UN on how member states comply with requirements to realise the right to health. He also met officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday, whom, he said, were “very exercised” about the issue of abortion here.
He could not comment directly on the Irish context but said where abortion was illegal women were discriminated against in a way men were not.
Access to safe and legal sexual and reproductive health services was a basic human right for men and women. For women this included access to abortion.
“Criminalisation impacts disproportionately on poorer, minority and marginalised women. Well-off women will always be able to access abortion elsewhere.”
He said the provision of abortion could not be achieved without legislation.
“You cannot rest on Constitution alone. Specific legislative measures are needed to ensure services are available.
“If continuing the pregnancy impacts adversely on the health of the mother that ought to be a grounds for access to legal abortion. Countries need to move forward to ensure women are able to realise that right to health and not just have it on paper.
“A woman’s right to health otherwise becomes a criminal situation.”
Legalisation of abortion would be a “first step,” he said. The State would also have to provide clinics and other places where abortion could be accessed by all women, regardless of their means or ethnic background.
It would have to be underpinned with very clear guidelines and regulations. Where the situation is unclear “doctors and healthcare professionals are not able to deliver the service because of the chilling effect” of the lack of clarity.
He was “concerned about women’s situation all over the world and particularly about Ireland”.
His comments were welcomed by the Irish Family Planning Association. Meave Taylor, policy officer, said although Mr Grover was unable to comment on specific countries, he had sent a “strong message to Government that it must decriminalise abortion”.