Abortion must be made safely available, says UN rapporteur on health


Interview:Abortion must be made safely available to women under the law 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 yesterday, also said 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 Ireland”.

After the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital in October, following what her husband said was the refusal of her repeated requests for a termination of the 17-week pregnancy she was miscarrying, Mr Grover said he looked in detail into the abortion situation in Ireland.

“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 . Maybe out of this tragedy something good will come.”

Inquiries into the death of Ms Halappanavar are ongoing.

Mr Grover is a human rights lawyer who as UN rapporteur reports to the organisation 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.

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 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 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.”

Legalisation of abortion would be a “first step”, he said.

His comments were welcomed by the Irish Family Planning Association. Policy officer Meave Taylor said although Mr Grover was unable to comment on specific countries, he had sent a “strong message to Government that it must decriminalise abortion”.