The UN, Ireland and abortion
Sir, – UN human rights experts are clear that international human rights law requires the State to change Ireland’s abortion laws.
This week, the UN committee that monitors the Irish State’s fulfilment of its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published its concluding observations to Ireland. It highlighted the impact of Ireland’s abortion laws on women’s health and it urged the Government to amend the Constitution to ensure that women have access to abortion in Ireland on wider grounds than only where there is risk to life.
The committee recommended that Ireland take all necessary steps, including a referendum, to revise the Constitution and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 so that they are in line with international human rights standards. This follows a similar recommendation last year by the UN Human Rights Committee. Both committees comprise experts who are elected by UN member states.
During its examination of Ireland, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights repeatedly asked about Article 40.3.3, or the Eighth Amendment, the constitutional provision that allows foetal right to life to “trump” a woman’s right to health.
Committee members asked why the Government does not call a referendum to repeal Article 40.3.3., and how the State can reconcile this constitutional provision with women’s right to reproductive health.
The State gave no explanation.
The right to health is guaranteed under international human rights law, which requires that rights are practical and effective.
Specific medical interventions associated with the right to health are not specified in human rights covenants, but it is clear that Ireland’s abortion laws cannot be reconciled with this right.
Speaking at the launch of Amnesty International’s new report on abortion in Ireland recently, Dr Rhona Mahony was unequivocal that Ireland’s abortion laws place women’s health, and even their lives, at risk. Yet the State was content to inform a UN human rights committee that it has issued only procedural, not clinical guidelines on the implementation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.
At least 3,735 women travel to access abortion abroad each year; each woman must carry the entire financial, practical and emotional burdens of doing so.
These burdens fall most heavily on minors, women on low incomes, and women who cannot travel freely to another state; these women disproportionately experience delays in accessing services.
If, as a society, we care about women’s right to appropriate healthcare, if we trust women’s decision-making and doctors’ clinical judgment, if we want health professionals to apply the highest standards of medical ethics, and health services to provide the best possible care, and if we value Ireland’s reputation as a state that upholds human rights, then we must reform Ireland’s abortion laws. – Yours, etc,