By Aisling Reidy
The first vote I ever cast was in one of the six referendums that Ireland has had on abortion. Today, I watched with tears of joy as it became clear that two-thirds of Irish people voted to repeal the 35-year constitutional ban on abortion and to allow parliament to regulate abortion access in the future. Voters had turned out in historic numbers. I am both proud and relieved.
I was too young in 1983 to vote in the first referendum that led Ireland to change its Constitution, adding what is known as the eighth amendment, banning abortion in almost all circumstances, even though it had already been criminalized in the country for over a century.
Under the constitutional ban, while “due regard” was given to the right to life of pregnant women and girls, the state’s responsibility was to “vindicate” the right to life of the “unborn.” When I was a university student, anti-choice activists successfully used the ban to make it illegal for doctors and family planning clinics to offer patients information about abortion services outside of Ireland. Student union officers were prosecuted for distributing such information. Magazines from abroad turned up in Ireland with blank pages, which would otherwise have contained advertisements with information on abortion services in the UK.
Over the years, the ban led to an injunction against a 14-year-old rape victim to stop her traveling to England for a termination, and, as recently as 2014, to a forced caesarean on a young asylum seeker, who despite being raped had not been allowed to travel for an abortion. Some women, like Savita Halappanavar, died because of the eighth amendment. The European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committeeruled on multiple occasions that the ban violated women’s rights, and told Ireland time and again to change its laws.
I voted in three referendums that won small but important gains: the right for a suicidal pregnant woman or girl to obtain a life-saving abortion; the right to information about services abroad; and the right to travel for these services. Between 1980 and 2016, more than170,000 Irish women and girls “travelled” (as it euphemistically became known) to have abortions: rape victims, women with diagnosis of fatal fetal anomalies, women who needed to end pregnancies to undergo life-saving treatment, and those who, for myriad personal reasons, could not continue their pregnancies. It’s likely everyone in Ireland knows family members or friends who “travelled” – often alone and in secrecy. I do.
After years of women making this lonely and often agonizing journey, listening to the brave individuals who came forward to break the silence, watching the commitment of the indefatigable pro-choice campaigners, and seeing the thousands who travelled #hometovote, yesterday’s vote was particularly poignant. The emphatic nature of the ‘Yes’ vote gives me hope that it will mark the start of a new, honest, rights-respecting era for women and girls in Ireland.
Activists in Poland, Malta, Italy, and in other regions such as Latin America -- where women and girls continue to fight for access to abortion – watched as Ireland voted. I hope today marks a day where women’s struggle to secure or protect their basic reproductive rights wherever they are, is bolstered.
Published on HRW on May 28, 2018
With Argentina in the global spotlight as it holds the G20 presidency this year, its government must commit to tackle human rights challenges and play a leading role in addressing other key regional and global issues, said Amnesty International during its Secretary General’s visit to the country.
“Argentina continues to face a number of urgent challenges, which particularly affect the country’s most vulnerable communities. Argentina’s presidency of the G20 entails a focus on economic development and trade, but this can never be separated from human rights. When this has happened, it has resulted in many millions being left behind, fuelling the potential for social and political unrest,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
At a meeting with President Mauricio Macri and other members of his cabinet, Salil Shetty discussed the organization’s views on the challenges and opportunities with regard to the human rights context in the country, and the key role that Argentina plays in relation to other global and regional issues.
The Secretary General welcomed Argentina’s generosity towards migrants and refugees and fleeing a human rights crisis in Venezuela, but he also emphasized the need for regional leaders, including Argentina, to work towards a real solution in Venezuela which puts human rights at its centre.
President Macri’s initiative to open up a congressional debate on abortion is an important step toward fulfilling Argentina’s international obligation on human rights. Half a million women undergo abortions every year in the country and over 3,000 Argentinian women have paid with their lives for the criminalization of abortion. Besides, public opinion is increasingly clear: in a recent survey commissioned by Amnesty International, 59% of people interviewed were in favour of decriminalizing abortion.
“In the era of #NiUnaMenos, #MeToo and the huge momentum for women’s rights across the world, but also at a time when women’s rights are being rolled back across the Americas, Argentina could send a powerful signal by taking the historic step of decriminalizing abortion, setting an important example to its neighbours and bringing the country in line with some of its important economic partners in other parts of the world,” said Salil Shetty.
Amnesty International also called on President Macri to address pressing human rights challenges, including the rights of Indigenous people. In a visit to Salinas Grandes in the Jujuy province, the Secretary General listened to the concerns of Indigenous people communities about the potential impact of the rapidly growing of lithium mining on their livelihoods, their water supply, and the environment. In this changing context, their voices have not been heard.
Argentina is obliged to seek the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities. This is not just window dressing, or a tick-box exercise. It is about respect for the people who have a historic claim to the land and an ancient wisdom about the sustainable exploitation of the land.
“Full consultation and ensuring that Indigenous peoples benefit from the lithium extraction will show that Argentina is serious about the message of fairness and sustainability that it wants to put at the heart of its G20 presidency.”
Finally, Amnesty International’s Secretary General expressed concern to President Macri over troubling signs of the erosion of the rights to protest and freedom of expression in Argentina. Heavy handed police action in dealing with protests, including arbitrary arrests and excessive force, has been on the rise as a result of the nation’s prioritization of security issues.
While the government has spoken about the importance of dialogue with civil society, many human rights defenders and civil society organizations are reporting increasing stigmatization and smear campaigns.
“At a time when many governments are justifying rollbacks on civic freedoms in the name of security, Argentina should demonstrate to the region and the entire world how to get the balance right between protecting the rights of its people as a whole and fully respecting the right to peaceful protest. To do so, the State must ensure security forces are trained in a sensitive manner, and issue clear guidelines for the use of force by law enforcement officials, in line with international standards,” said Salil Shetty.
Published on Amnesty International on April 12, 2018
By Richard Angell
Owen Smith, the shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, has a plan. He says that if Northern Ireland is to have a sustained period of unwelcome direct rule, he favours putting marriage equality and abortion to referendums so that Westminster can feel empowered to make change happen.
The shadow Northern Ireland secretary is right to want to see progress on both these issues – it is appalling that the people of Northern Ireland do not have the same equal marriage laws or reproductive rights as their fellow citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom. For the avoidance of doubt, our preference would be for the institutions to get back up and running as soon as possible. It is a tragedy that the UK government isn’t working harder to achieve that because of the survival pact Theresa May has signed with the DUP. Direct rule is bad for Northern Ireland for a whole range of reasons.
Owen Smith is right to say that if the parties of Northern Ireland cannot get their act together and restore power-sharing government then direct rule, however undesirable, must be used to make progress on LGBT and reproductive rights.
But he is wrong to say that referendums are necessary to give a mandate for change. For one, thing they are not required. Unlike in the Republic of Ireland, where these were constitutional questions, a referendum is not needed to change the law for either marriage equality or abortion. They are the preserve of legislators. Some will look to Australia. But the reason for the “consultative ballot” in Australia was a total failure of leadership, and should neither be indulged nor repeated.
The people of Northern Ireland have already had their rights on equal marriage denied because of the Democratic Unionist party taking advantage of the makeup of the previous assembly to abuse parliamentary procedure. Every poll shows that there is clear majority support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
Therefore Westminster, and particularly Labour’s front bench, should not be saying that there needs to be another public vote to provide a mandate. Members of the UK parliament already know that if the Northern Ireland assembly was up and running, such legislation would get majority support and the voters would overwhelmingly welcome it.
So if the parties of Northern Ireland cannot sort themselves out and form a government then the UK parliament must act now without delay, without the division of a public vote unleashing the worst sort of politics.
In Australia the LGBT community opposed the postal ballot on their civil rights because you should not have to ask the permission of your neighbour to be equal.
As in Ireland, the campaigns against same-sex marriage indulged homophobia and exploited homophobic tropes about LGBT people seeking to “recruit” young people. Some insinuated that homosexuality was a gateway to paedophilia. Others did much more than insinuate. In Melbourne, Stop The Fags posters appeared and then went viral with images of children cowering under a rainbow-coloured hand. This is what referendums do. They divide cultures, generations and families. They force LGBT people to come out to gain basic civil rights, not at a time of their choosing. For some it was liberating – for others, the consequences continue.
I fear a referendum on abortion would undoubtedly descend quickly into a vicious debate.
Having engaged in these debates on university campuses – places that pride themselves on being liberal-minded – I have witnessed first-hand how quickly they can sour, with accusations of “baby killers”, of women using abortion as contraception and other inflaming distortions.
In Northern Ireland, such a retrograde step is not necessary. Instead, we should work to build a majority in the assembly to legislate for the rights of women in Northern Ireland, impressing on the parties there that this is a human rights issue.
We need only look to Stella Creasy’s important victory earlier this year, enabling women from Northern Ireland to access abortions in England on the NHS, to see how cross-party parliamentary support can be won. It can – and must – now go further.
As it stands in Northern Ireland, women with the resources to travel to Britain to access an abortion can do so, while those who do not must carry on with an unwanted pregnancy or pursue an unsafe and unlawful procedure. Women in Northern Ireland should not have to cross the Irish Sea to access medical care that is their right.
The DUP have made clear their demands for a single UK regulatory framework: politically, economically and financially. Perhaps we can begin with social parity. That would ensure our citizens in Northern Ireland have the same reproductive rights and LGBT rights they deserve, the same as everyone else in Britain.
Published on The Guardian on December 19, 2017
(...) the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 36, an unconstitutional nationwide ban on abortion at 20 weeks, prohibiting safe and legal abortion without regard for the health of the woman. This ban not only violates longstanding Supreme Court precedent established in Roe v. Wade, and reaffirmed just last year in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, but it contains only the narrowest exceptions for survivors of rape or incest and prohibits doctors from providing care at the risk of federal criminal penalties (including five years in prison).
Said Maya Rupert, Senior Policy Director at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Anti-abortion leaders in Congress didn’t miss a beat in their crusade to compromise women’s health and safety. One week after the Senate attempted yet again to gut women’s health care and repeal the Affordable Care Act, the House has wasted no time in advancing a bill to ban abortion with arbitrary limits. This bill strips women of their autonomy while showing extreme disregard for their lived experiences and the unique circumstances they may face during a pregnancy.
“Time and again, the Supreme Court has affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to abortion prior to viability. No gestational ban has ever survived this judicial scrutiny. The Senate should refuse to consider this harmful and blatantly unconstitutional bill.”
H.R. 36 is an unconstitutional ban on virtually all abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, regardless of whether the pregnancy would harm the woman’s health or the fetus has severe abnormalities that would make survival unlikely or impossible. The bill threatens doctors with fines and a harsh penalty of up to five years in prison and imposes additional hurdles that interfere with the patient-provider relationship and further delay care.
The legislation passed today includes a medically unnecessary, mandatory 48-hour waiting period for rape survivors by requiring adult patients to obtain medical care or counseling from a state-licensed counselor or victims’ rights advocate for their assault at least two days prior to receiving abortion services. Minors who have become pregnant after rape or incest are likewise required to report the crime to law enforcement or child protective services before receiving an abortion.
An earlier version of H.R. 36 passed the House in 2015, and was blocked in the Senate that same year.
Bans like H.R. 36 have been challenged in court and do not pass constitutional muster. The Supreme Court last year refused to review North Dakota’s ban on abortion as early as 6 weeks of pregnancy and Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy had been struck down by lower courts. In 2014, the nation’s highest court refused to review Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy after it had been declared unconstitutional, and every federal court that has reached a decision on a pre-viability ban has blocked the rule from taking effect.
Published on The Center for Reproductive Rights on October 3, 2017.