The UN’s human rights committee has called on the Irish government to reform its restrictive abortion legislation, after ruling that it subjected a woman to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and violated her human rights.
The landmark ruling, which is expected to set an international precedent, calls onIreland to introduce “accessible procedures for pregnancy termination” to prevent similar violations in the future. The judgment marks the first time that an international human rights committee has recognised that by criminalising abortion, a state has violated a woman’s human rights.
A panel of UN human rights committee experts found that Ireland’s prohibition and criminalisation of abortion services subjected Amanda Mellet to severe emotional and mental pain and suffering in 2011, when she was told she could not have an abortion in Ireland even though doctors had discovered that the foetus had congenital defects that meant it would die in the womb or shortly after birth.
Ruling on Mellet’s complaint, the committee concluded that Ireland’s abortion laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, meant that 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”. This violated her right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Ireland has signed the international covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR), which is part of the international bill of human rights. As such, it is obliged to compensate Mellet and to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future, the ruling states.
Ireland “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 in Ireland”, the ruling stated.
Lawyers said the judgment could help trigger reform in other countries with restrictive abortion laws. “The decision is so significant that lawyers who are working with women who have been denied access to abortion across the world will be very encouraged and will be using it in their work to seek justice for their clients and legal change in countries where access to abortion services is criminalised,” Leah Hoctor, the regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who filed the complaint to the UN human rights committee on Mellet’s behalf, said.
Prohibited from accessing a termination in Ireland, Mellet chose to travel to the UK and returned 12 hours after the procedure because she could not afford to stay longer. She had to pay for private treatment, and the round trip cost €3,000. Her foetus’s ashes were unexpectedly delivered three weeks later by courier.
“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.