Ireland Accused of Human Rights Violations

For the first time, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has decreed that laws prohibiting abortion can violate a person’s right to freedom from inhumane treatment.

Ireland’s prohibition and criminalisation of abortion services violated the human rights of a woman living in Ireland and caused her “intense physical and mental suffering” according to a ground-breaking ruling from the United Nations Human Rights Committee—a first for any international human rights court or committee.

The U.N. committee found that Ireland’s laws subjected Amanda Mellet to severe emotional and mental pain and suffering by denying her access to abortion services in Ireland. Ms Mellet was denied an abortion in Ireland in 2011 after learning that her pregnancy had a fatal foetal impairment. She subsequently travelled to the United Kingdom to undergo the procedure. The committee instructs the Irish government to act promptly and effectively to redress the harm Ms. Mellet suffered and reform its laws to ensure other women do not face similar human rights violations and to guarantee effective, timely and accessible procedures for abortion in Ireland.

Ireland’s abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world. Abortion is permitted only when there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman. In every other circumstance abortion is a serious crime. Since 1983, the Irish Constitution’s Article 40.3.3 has placed “the right to life of the unborn” on an equal footing with the right to life of pregnant women. 

The U.N. authority found that Ireland’s abortion laws violated Ms Mellet’s right to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The ruling also found that Ireland’s failure to provide services that Ms. Mellet required constituted discrimination. The Committee found that Ireland’s criminalisation of abortion caused Ms Mellet shame and stigma and that her suffering was further aggravated by the obstacles she faced in getting information about the appropriate medical options.

This is a big step forward for reproductive rights. This is the first time that any international human rights committee takes a firm stand on the issue, and I can only hope that it will lead to some progress in Ireland. I, for one, will never forget Savita.


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