Amnesty International and abortion

Sir, – I must correct Breda O'Brien's misrepresentation of Amnesty International and human rights in her piece "Abortion – we can do better than women in prison and dead babies in bins" (Opinion & Analysis, April 9th). Yes, we "campaign to end the death penalty in the same breath as [we] advocate for 'reproductive rights' for women". Both are areas where, regrettably, grave human rights violations continue around the world. But women's reproductive rights are not, as O'Brien suggests, so-called rights or less than genuine rights. They are rights clearly and precisely set out in an international human rights legal system created by states, including Ireland (not by us). They are rights that Ireland actively promotes and defends on the international stage. Whether Breda O'Brien accepts it or not, women's reproductive rights include the right to access safe and legal abortion, should that be their decision. The UN's human rights bodies say that women should have access to abortion at a minimum when their life or health is at risk, they are pregnant as a result of rape, or there is a diagnosis of fatal or severe foetal impairment. In this regard, Ireland fails utterly.

From myriad personal or ideological perspectives, many wish to deny women their right to have control over their sexuality and reproduction. But it would better serve public discourse in Ireland if those like your columnist did so on the basis of a rejection – not distortion – of the international human rights framework and Amnesty International’s position thereon.

Breda O’Brien’s ultimate call for “abolishing abortion in all its forms” as the way forward for women in Ireland is a pointless and a dangerous suggestion. The World Health Organisation advises that, across the world, abortion bans do not stop abortions – instead they cause women and girls to resort to clandestine and sometimes dangerous methods. In this context, O’Brien’s warning women in Ireland against taking abortion medication due to the risk of uncontrolled bleeding cannot go unchallenged. This is one the safest methods of abortion, and thus routinely available in most other countries. Indeed, in some cases, medical supervision is required. Yet Ireland’s abortion law denies women access to such important medical advice and assistance – health professionals would face a possible 14-year prison sentence if they helped. So it is Ireland’s abortion ban that is putting women’s health and lives at risk of the harm she describes, not abortion medication.

Finally, contrary to what your columnist suggests, we can trust women when they say they need an abortion (our recent poll found that 68 per cent of people in Ireland agree). It is their bodies, their lives and their rights, after all. – Yours, etc,



Executive Director,

Amnesty International


Dublin 2.