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'Some parents have to open the coffin every two hours to put in ice-packs so remains stay cool'

How many more girls are our government prepared to abuse while they delay a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, asks Gerry Edwards.

FOR THE SECOND time in just one year the United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that Ireland subjected a woman to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by denying her access to abortion services.

On Monday the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a ruling against Ireland following a complaint made by Siobhán Whelan. She had received a diagnosis of a fatal foetal anomaly during a pregnancy in 2010 and made the very difficult decision that bringing her pregnancy to an end, sooner rather than later, was what was best for her and her family.

However, by refusing her access to abortion services and forcing her to travel to the UK for medical assistance, Ireland violated her rights to privacy, discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, and subjected her to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Humiliated again by our government

The Committee have again told Ireland that we must take whatever steps are necessary to prevent others from being subjected to the same human rights violations, and must compensate Siobhán Whelan for the harm done to her.

Yet again the people of Ireland have been humiliated by our own government. We have known for a long time that the denial of abortion services to women facing these types of crises is a breach of human rights.

In June of last year this same Committee reached the same damning conclusions in the case of Amanda Mellett. The Irish State was to have responded with details of how they were going to prevent these breaches from occurring within 180 days (6 months) of that finding. Their response was that they had established the Citizen’s Assembly to discuss the matter and make recommendations to them.

Vague promises about a referendum

TFMR Ireland went on record at the time to say that the Oireachtas Committee should work in parallel with the Citizen’s Assembly, so that when the recommendations were made they would be as well briefed as the volunteer citizens. This would have left them with no excuses for delay.

Instead, the government saw the Citizen’s Assembly as a “time out” and simply sat back, not only ignoring their responsibilities as legislators, but also ignoring all of the women and families who wish to have continuity of medical care within our own borders.

A further 190 days have elapsed since Ireland’s first 180 days expired (on 6th December 2016) and the Oireachtas have not even finalised the makeup of the Committee to discuss the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly. The best we have are vague expressions that it might be possible to have some form of referendum next year.

In the meantime, we know that an average of three families every week travel to Liverpool Women’s Hospital to receive the care they need following devastating diagnoses. This is just one medical facility to which Irish women travel – there are others.

Forced to remain pregnant

This doesn’t take account of all those women who wish to end their pregnancies early but for a variety of reasons are unable to travel, and they are forced to remain pregnant against their wills, waiting for their babies to die inside them.

Every single one of these women wished to receive the care they needed in their own hospital, with their own doctors, with the support of their families and wider communities. They wanted to go back to their own beds, not to budget hotels, airports or ferry ports. Many of these women end up having to travel back to the UK to attend cremation services and then travel back again to collect the cremated remains of their babies, knowing they will be stopped at airport security to explain their little package.

Others have the cremated remains delivered home by courier at enormous expense (£900 was most recent figure we heard). Some parents bring the remains back to Ireland for burial, and this can involve having to open the coffin every two hours to put in ice-packs so that their baby’s remains are kept cool.

Repeal the 8th

Why is it that bereaved mothers like Siobhán Whelan, and Amanda Mellett before her, have to be the brave ones? The founders of the main political parties in Ireland would turn in their graves to see the cowardly hand-wringing that we have witnessed over recent years.

We are calling upon Leo Varadkar, as our new Taoiseach, to step up and demonstrate a determination that Ireland’s Constitution and laws will be changed to ensure that human rights are upheld. He needs to reflect in our laws the true nature of the people of Ireland as a compassionate, empathetic and supportive society.

How many more women and girls are he and his government prepared to abuse while they continuously seek to delay doing what is necessary – giving the people of Ireland their referendum to repeal the 8th.

Gerry Edwards is Chairperson of TFMR Ireland.

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