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Human Rights

UN rights watchdog warns Ireland over abortion wait period and women travelling abroad for care

The Committee has called for the Government to remove barriers for women seeking access to abortion services.

CONCERNS ABOUT IRELAND’S abortion legislation have been raised by the UN Human Rights Committee, with issues like waiting periods and barriers to access among them.

In its most recent report, the Committee welcomed that the 8th Amendment was repealed in 2018, which provided the basis for abortion to be legalised in Ireland.

However, the Committee has criticised the abortion laws themselves, particularly around the three-day waiting period and the lack of availability of abortion services in some parts of Ireland, particularly for women in rural communities and vulnerable situations.

“The Committee is concerned by provisions that subject women to a mandatory 3-day waiting period prior to termination of pregnancy, as well as by the challenges faced by women and girls to access safe and legal abortion due to alleged low percentage of general practitioners providing abortion services, disproportionately affecting women and girls in vulnerable situations and rural communities,” reads the report.

The report calls on the Government to “review” these provisions to ensure that there are no barriers for women seeking abortions.

The Committee also raised concerns about the number of women and girls who are reportedly travelling abroad to seek abortion care, either after being denied one in Ireland or being unable to access the procedure.

It added that it “regrets” the Government bringing forward criminal liability for anyone who seeks an abortion outside of the current laws. 

Additionally, concerns were raised by restrictions around requiring two medical professionals to determine cases of foetal abnormalities, saying that these barriers should be removed.

The report also touches on the implementation of “safe access zones” around healthcare facilities, with a bill to implement these zones being approved by Cabinet today.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that he was committed to seeing the bill drafted “as quickly as possible so it can be introduced to the Oireachtas”.

“I would love to see this pass through all stages into law and become operational in this calendar year.

“It’s a very positive move. I will be looking to engage with the Oireachtas health committee on pre-legislative scrutiny. We need to look at the time commitments the health committee can give this,” the minister added. 

The Committee report comes as the Department of Health undertakes a review of the current abortion legislation, which began last December.

Emergency powers

The Human Rights Committee also examined Ireland’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly around the emergency powers that were used to enforce public health measures to slow the spread of the virus.

The Committee said that it was concerned by reports that freedom of movement and freedom of peaceful assembly were “significantly and disproportionately reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Due to this, it recommended that the Government undertake a “comprehensive review” of Ireland’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including a human rights impact assessment to assess the impact of restrictions on people, particularly regarding minority groups.

It also raised concerns about private security providers being used in evictions, adding that the Government should ensure that all private security officials are “subordinate” to Gardaí and that they receive human rights training.

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