By Henry McDonald
The United Nations has again ruled that Ireland’s abortion laws have subjected a woman to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
It is the second time in 12 months that the UN’s human rights committee has denounced the abortion rules in the Irish Republic, which denies women with fatal foetal abnormalities the right to terminate pregnancies.
The committee has found in favour of Siobhán Whelan, an Irish woman who was denied access to an abortion in 2010 despite being diagnosed with fatal foetal syndrome during her pregnancy, it was announced on Tuesday.
Fatal foetal abnormalities include where the foetus has under-developed vital organs such as the heart and brain, which would mean if the pregnancy went to full term the baby would either be stillborn or die within hours of birth.
Whelan’s case mirrors that of Amanda Mellet, who was also forced to travel to Britain to end her pregnancy.
Last year the UN ruled in Mellet’s favour, and she made history by becoming the first woman to be compensated by the Irish state over the trauma she suffered.
In the Whelan case, the UN committee held that Ireland must also provide her with reparations for the harm she suffered and reform its laws to ensure other women do not face similar human rights violations.
The committee also instructed Ireland to legalise abortion and provide effective, timely and accessible abortion services.
Three years ago, the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint on behalf of Whelan before the committee, arguing that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws violated her basic human rights by subjecting her to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, interfering with her right to privacy and discriminating against her on the basis of her gender.
Responding to the latest ruling, Whelan said: “When I received the diagnosis, I was told I would have to continue with the pregnancy since Ireland’s abortion laws do not allow you to end the pregnancy even in these circumstances.
“If I wanted to end the pregnancy, I would have to travel to another jurisdiction. This, to me, was very wrong and I knew that the suffering I endured because I had to travel to access healthcare was inhuman.
“I believe that women and couples must be given the best possible care at home at such a difficult time in their lives, including if they decide to terminate the pregnancy, and that there should be equal access to good-quality information and care by hospitals countrywide.
“The human rights committee has found that what happened to me was a human rights violation. It has recognised that Ireland’s abortion laws can cause women intense suffering, violating our most basic human rights.”
Leah Hoctor, the regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, said: “Siobhán Whelan bravely sought justice for the harm she and other women have endured as a result of Ireland’s abortion laws. The UN human rights committee has now upheld her claims and told Ireland, for the second time, that its abortion laws are cruel and inhumane.”
Ireland outlaws abortions except where the life of a pregnant woman is at risk. Attempts by the last Fine Gael-Labour party coalition to deal with the controversy led to the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allowed for abortion where a woman is suicidal and may be judged to be in danger of taking her own life if the pregnancy continues.
Physicians and psychiatrists in Ireland have complained that there is a “chill factor” in their professions over decision-making on abortion or even carrying out terminations in Irish hospitals under the act.
They claim this is because legal cases could be taken against them as, under the eighth amendment to Ireland’s constitution, the foetus is an Irish citizen with the same rights as everyone else in the state. Pro-choice campaigners are lobbying for a referendum that would erase the eighth amendment from the country’s constitution.
Published on The Guardian on June 12, 2017.