Ireland’s abortion legislation ‘inhumane’ and discriminatory, UN rights body told

UN human rights committee is examining Ireland’s compliance with covenant on civil and political rights

Ireland’s abortion legislation is “inhumane” and “discriminatory” in its treatment of women with crisis pregnancies, the United Nations human rights committee has heard.

The intergovernmental body, which is examining Ireland’s compliance with the covenant on civil and political rights (CCPR), said Travellers still faced “multiple forms of discrimination” and that survivors of mother and baby homes were subjected to “problematic” legislation that amounted to “a complete flagrant violation” of their rights.

Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman is in Geneva, Switzerland, leading a high-level delegation of senior civil servants to respond to the committee. Numerous NGOs, led by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, have also travelled to brief the body, which continues its examination on Tuesday.

Hélène Tigroudja, a member of the body, said the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Act) 2018 placed “very many barriers, both legal and practical” to “safe, legal and non-discriminatory access to abortion”.


Referring to the mandatory three-day wait period for women between asking for a medical abortion and accessing the medication, Ms Tigroudja said this was “a disadvantage for women living in rural areas, women in poverty and women experiencing violence [who] simply cannot return several times”.

The rule that women with a diagnosis of a fatal foetal anomaly could access abortion only where there was certainty that the foetus would die within 28 days of birth meant that many women who could not travel had to carry such pregnancies to term.

“This is a problem for women who are less well off. They have to continue with their pregnancy ... This is inhuman treatment and this is discrimination on the grounds of economic status,” she said.

Asking about survivors of mother and baby homes, she said the provision of redress on condition that they not pursue separate legal claims was “a complete flagrant violation of the CCPR and the European Convention on Human Rights”.

“I will remind you there are very serious violations here. The payment of financial compensation ex gratia does not free the State of its obligation to investigate, prosecute and bring to justice those responsible [for abuses within the homes].”

Imeru Tamerat Yigezu, from Ethiopia, noted Ireland’s recognition of Traveller ethnicity in 2017, but added that it had “not yet been backed up with a legal act”. Given the community’s challenges accessing accommodation and unemployment rates of more than 80 per cent, he asked: “What steps being taken to ensure they are not subjected the multiple forms of discrimination?“

He said people of African descent were “disadvantaged and discriminated against” in every aspect of life “on a daily basis” and asked what was being done to tackle hate crime and “high levels of racial profiling” of people of African, Asian and Traveller ethnicity.

Mr O’Gorman said Travellers had been “the subject of systematic racism over decades”. While recognition of Traveller ethnicity was important, “a long way has still to go in terms of our treatment of the Travelling community”.

The review of the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) 2017-2021 must, he said, lead to “deliverables” in the next strategy because while there had been success in delivering policies and laws, “the actual improvements for the community on the ground – we aren’t seeing enough of that”.

Hate crime legislation would be brought before the Oireachtas in the autumn and “hopefully will be passed before the end of the year,” the Minister said.

Responding to questions on redress to survivors of mother and baby homes, Mr O’Gorman said he expected a report on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Institutional Payments Bill in the coming weeks. It would benefit 34,000 former residents at a cost of €800 million, he added.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times