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Ireland at the UN: We have 'no solution' for women who can't afford to travel for an abortion

Ireland faced a second day of questioning at UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

IRELAND HAS TOLD the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva that it has “no solution” to the problem of women being unable to afford to travel overseas to undergo a termination for medical reasons.

An Irish delegation – including Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald – has been answering questions about a number of issues including, abortion, direct provision, traveller ethnicity, blasphemy and symphysiotomy.

It’s the second day of questioning from the UN panel with the Irish State again warned that it could still in breach of human rights legislation on the issue of abortion because it criminalises pregnant women who seek an abortion following a rape or due to a fatal foetal abnormality.

The chair of the committee said that the evidence he heard led him to feel that female victims of rape were treated “like a vessel” by Irish law.

The committee also told the Irish delegation that, the fact Ireland’s laws have been debated in public and passed by parliament, does not prevent a dereliction of duty in terms of fulfilling the country’s human rights commitments.

Committee member Cornelis Flinterman asked the minister directly when was the last time that the Irish public has had an opportunity to vote in a referendum on the issue of abortion in light of opinion polls he says indicated supported for termination for medical reasons.

Defending the country’s record on the issue of abortion, Fitzgerald said told the UNHRC that the most recent referendum was in 2002 on the issue of suicide as a risk to the life of a pregnant woman.

She added that another referendum would be required to address the issues raised by the committee but that the recent Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act had provided clarity to both doctors and women on some important issues:

The very recent legislation gives clarity to medical professionals and very importantly gives clarity to women…It is an important recent development in terms of providing certainty and clarity in a situation where there was no clarity. The situation had not been clear in law. There was much discussion with stakeholders, public hearings and in the Oireachtas.

Three doctor panel

A representative from the Department of Health told the committee that a three doctor panel is required to determine the suicidal intent of a woman seeking an abortion because of “the clinical challenges that arise in examining suicidal intent”.

The representative said that “the doctors do not need to meet the women together” and that the decision “would be reached in line with best medical practices”.

Speaking on the issue of Irish women seeking terminations for medical reason, the DoH representative noted that women have travelled to overseas to undergo an abortion for these reasons but said that the state had “no solution” to the problem of women who can’t afford to do so.

Read: UN told symphysiotomy patients were ‘operated upon wide awake and often screaming’ >

Read: New abortion guidelines spark condemnation on all sides >

Read: Irish laws ‘forcing us to go to Manchester for a termination this weekend’ >

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Rónán Duffy

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