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Ireland’s abortion laws under UN spotlight

The laws will be looked at during Ireland’s first United Nations universal periodic review, where the country’s human rights record will be assessed.

File photo: Pro-choice supporters confront anti-abortion supporters at a rally supporting Irish anti-abortion policy in Dublin
File photo: Pro-choice supporters confront anti-abortion supporters at a rally supporting Irish anti-abortion policy in Dublin
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

IRELAND’S ABORTION LAWS will be put under the spotlight at the United Nations next Thursday (October 6), when Ireland’s human rights record is examined by other member states under the UN’s universal periodic review (UPR) process.

Under the UPR, the human rights records of the United Nations’ 192 member states are reviewed and assessed every four years.

The UPR in Ireland

Seventeen organisations have come together to submit reports to the UPR about Ireland’s record, while the Department of Justice, Equality and Defence is co-ordinating the work of the Irish Government on the UPR.

The group of organisations, using the name Your Rights. Right Now, conducted 17 consultation and public information events throughout Ireland and received 84 written submissions.

Speaking in advance of the UPR, Irish Family Planning Association chief executive Niall Behan said:

Ireland’s human rights reputation has been tarnished by the failure to enact legislation to clarify existing laws. We hope that the Minister for Justice will accept the genuine concern expressed by other UN member states about the human rights implications of Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws and make a commitment to bring Irish abortion laws in line with international human rights standards and obligations.

He added:

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee Against Torture, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights have all told Ireland to review its laws which criminalise abortion.

Among the questions submitted to Ireland about its human rights record are ones from the UK, Denmark, Finland and Netherlands regarding its abortion laws.

Several more states will make recommendations calling Ireland to account for the State’s contentious abortion laws.

Questions

The UK’s questions include one seeking an update on the progress of the establishment of the expert group which the Government promised to set up in response to the A, B & C v Ireland judgement at the European Court of Human Rights.

It asks: “Will its recommendations include the introduction of legislation on abortions?”

It also asked what is the likely impact of budget cuts on the work of the Irish Human Rights Commission.

In December 2010, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its verdict in the case of A, B & C v Ireland.

The Court unanimously found that Ireland’s failure to give effect to the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman’s life is at risk violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case was taken by three women, supported by the IFPA, who travelled abroad for abortion services and argued that the criminalisation of abortion services in Ireland jeopardised their health and well-being, in violation of a number of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

With its question, the Netherlands has asked Ireland to clarify the terms, references and timeframe of the expert group and also how women’s rights “will be upheld pending the expert group’s examination”.

Finland has asked the Government to “clarify the circumstances under which an abortion may be lawful, and to effectively fulfil women’s rights to access life-saving abortions”.

Denmark has questioned whether “Ireland intends to permit abortion in situations where a women is pregnant as a result of rape, where her physical and mental health and wellbeing are at risk, or where the foetus has a severe abnormality incompatible with life outside the womb”.

Abortion in Ireland

Abortion is against the law in Ireland unless the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman.

Forty four out of 47 European countries provide for abortion.

Since 1980, around 150,000 women have travelled abroad from Ireland to access safe abortion services.

Read the full UPR report written by Your Rights. Right Now here>

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