The UN has condemned Ireland’d restrictive abortion laws regarding it as cruel, inhuman and degrading.

It described as inhuman and degrading the country’s abortion laws in which a woman (AM), was compelled to choose between carrying her foetus to term, knowing it would not survive, or seeking abortion abroad.

Experts from the UN Human Rights Committee issued their findings after considering a complaint by AM who was denied abortion rights by Ireland in November 2011 after establishing that her 21-week foetus had congenital defects and would either die in her womb or immediately after birth.

The Geneva-based committee considered the case under the First Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)     which gave it the powers to examine individual complaints.

“This meant she had to chose between continuing her non-viable pregnancy or travelling to another country while carrying a dying foetus at personal expense and separated from the support of her family, and to return while not fully recovered,” the Committee said in a press release.

AM decided to travel to the United Kingdom for a termination and returned 12 hours after the procedure as she could not afford to stay longer.

The UK hospital did not provide any options regarding the fetus’s remains and she had to leave them behind. The ashes were unexpectedly delivered to her by courier three weeks later.

In Ireland, she was denied the bereavement counselling and medical care available to women who miscarry.

Such differential treatment, the committee noted, failed to take into account her medical needs and socio-economic circumstances and constituted discrimination.

“Many of the negative experiences she went through could have been avoided if she had not been prohibited from terminating her pregnancy in the familiar environment of her own country and under the care of health professionals whom she knew and trusted,” the committee wrote in its findings.

It said that in addition to the shame and stigma associated with the criminalisation of abortion of a fatally-ill foetus, AM’s suffering was aggravated by the obstacles she faced in getting information about the appropriate medical options.

Ireland’s Abortion Information Act allows healthcare providers to give patients information about abortion, including the circumstances under which abortion services can be available.

Under the law, however, they are prohibited from, and could be sanctioned for behaviour that could be interpreted as advocating or promoting the termination of pregnancy.

Ireland, which is a State party to the ICCPR, is obliged to provide AM with an effective remedy, including adequate compensation and psychological treatment she may need, the committee said.

Ireland is also obliged to prevent similar violations from occurring.

“To this end, the State party should amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy, including if necessary its Constitution, to ensure compliance with the Covenant, including effective, timely and accessible procedures for pregnancy termination.

“It should also take measures to ensure that healthcare providers are in a position to supply full information on safe abortion services without fearing being subjected to criminal sanctions,” the committee said.

In its observations to the committee on AM’s claims, Ireland said that the country’s constitutional and legislative framework reflected “the nuanced and proportionate approach to the considered views of the Irish Electorate on the profound moral question of the extent to which the right to life of the foetus should be protected and balanced against the rights of the woman.”

Author: Ope Adedeji