Global reproductive rights experts in Dublin to discuss abortion access

Irish Council for Civil Liberties calls for ‘equal treatment’ for Irish women

Two months ago the Indian Supreme Court agreed to allow a 13-year-old girl to terminate her pregnancy at 32 weeks.

The teenage rape victim was represented by Sneha Mukherjee, a 26-year-old lawyer who has spent the past four years handling dozens of cases of women seeking abortions beyond India’s 20-week limit.

The young legal advocate is just one of the many international activists visiting Dublin this week to discuss their work in promoting reproductive rights.

“Access to abortion is a major health issue,” says Ms Mukherjee.

“As long as a foetus is inside a woman’s body it is part of the woman’s body. It is not a separate entity. A mother’s right should triumph over the right of the foetus.”

“You cannot choose a potential life over an existing life. You’re irreversibly harming an existing life just to save a potential life that may not actually exist for very long.”

The young lawyer, who has represented many cases of women seeking abortion beyond 20 weeks because of fatal foetal abnormalities, argues that forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy against her own will leads to far greater trauma and upset than undergoing an abortion.

“When we advocate for the right to abortion we’re advocating for a right to choice which means I am making an informed choice not to carry on with a pregnancy.

“Reproductive rights means having the capacity to reproduce but also being able to access the services and information needed to make a decision about your pregnancy.

“The right to abortion is also a right to privacy because it’s a woman’s body. That is something people fail to understand.”

Ms Mukherjee will be a joined on Wednesday by a panel of legal health experts and human rights activists from around the world who have been invited to Dublin to discuss the advancement of reproductive rights for women and girls.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), which is hosting Wednesday's conference, has called for the removal of the Eighth amendment from the Irish constitution, the decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of abortion services accessible to all women and girls in Ireland.

‘Women’s equality and autonomy’

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's event, Louise Melling, deputy director at the American Civil Liberties Union, underlined how research carried out in the United States showed an individual's control over their reproductive health played a vital role in creating equality for women

“Data shows if you can’t control your reproduction everything else is much harder. If you’re a student, finishing school is harder. If you work, holding onto your job, advancing in your work or breaking into a new field is harder. Having an equal wage is harder. Having basic control over your life is harder.”

Ms Melling said allowing abortion only in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape “does not address the core issue. That narrow extension doesn’t recognise in any way the fundamental importance of these issues.

“It doesn’t recognise the human rights at stake here. I come with the fundamental belief that this right is essential women’s equality and autonomy as well as health and safety”.

Judit Zeller, a legal officer with the Hungarian Civil Liberties union, says governments should focus on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies through education and access to contraception rather than restricting abortion services.

“This question of pro-life and pro-choice can never be fully be resolved. It’s a question of faith and conviction and attitude. But if you want to define the role of women in the 21st century, it should be the opportunity for them to decide what happens in their own lives.”

In a post published on its website ahead of Wednesday’s conference, the ICCL accused the State of inflicting suffering on women and girls and violating their human rights through “discriminatory laws and draconian punishment based on their sex and reproductive capacity”.

It wrote that the inclusion of Article 40.3.3 - the Eighth Amendment - which underpins Ireland’s strict anti-abortion laws and “criminalisation of abortion” had continued this “pattern of discrimination” against Irish women.

The ICCL echoed the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in calling for change to Irish law that would ensure the “health, dignity, bodily integrity and autonomy, and equal treatment” of women and girls.

It added that Ireland’s abortion laws discriminated in particular against women without the resources to travel abroad for the procedure and who must depend upon the State for care.