Irish women forced to travel for abortions to take cases to UN

Ireland’s ban on abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities amounts to ’cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’

Three women who were forced to travel to Britain to terminate their pregnancies following diagnoses that their babies would not survive outside the womb will take their cases to the United Nations next week.

The women, members of the Terminations for Medical Reasons group, will hold a press conference in Dublin on Wednesday, with the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR), outlining their cases. They will allege that the fact they were forced to leave Ireland to terminate their pregnancies amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Siobhain Murphy, Ruth Bowie and Amanda Mellet will call on the UN to put pressure on Ireland to legalise abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormaility.

They are being supported in bringing the cases by Doctors for Choice here in Ireland and by the CRR. The Centre has been operating for two decades. According to its website it uses the law “to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfil.”


Two of the three women first told their stories publicly in The Irish Times last year. They told how they had had much-wanted pregnancies but how, having been given the news that their unborn babies would not survive after being born, made the decision to terminate their pregnancies.

They could not have the terminations carried out in Ireland as abortion was, and remains, illegal in all circumstances except where there is a real and substantial threat to the life of the mother.

“The system should wrap its arms around you, instead it turns its back on you,” commented Ms Bowie last year. “It’s hard to rationalise this in a country where you can turn off someone’s life support.”

The group has since met with TDs and Senators and have been campaigning to have abortion legalised for women in their circumstances.

Following the death of Savita Halappanavar at Galway University Hospital in October last year, and the increased momentum towards legislation to give effect to the 1992 'X' case they had been optimistic that terminations for fatal foetal abnormalities would be legalised. However, the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act has not legalised abortion in such circumstances.

The women say this is the next step in their campaign to change the law to include women such as them.

In August the CRR wrote to the UN's Human Rights Committee which is reviewing Ireland's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Centre, in its letter sent after the passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, said it was writing to raise "several areas of concern related to violations of women's rights stemming from Ireland's restrictive abortion law".

It said that while the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act now lifts the outright ban on abortion when there is a risk to the woman’s life, “Ireland’s abortion regime continues to lack other exceptions that have become internationally accepted as minimum grounds for abortion.

“These of the woman’s health, when the pregnancy is as a result of rape or incest, and when foetuses (sic) are afflicted with severe foetal impairments.”

The Centre also points out that the UN Committee in 2005, in the KL v Peru case, established that “withholding abortion services in cases of fatal foetal impairments, regardless of legality, constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.

“Staes arte thus obligated to remove restrictions that prevent access to abortion in cases of sevre foetal impairments such as fatal anomalies.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times