National Partnership for Women & Families

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U.N. committee: Ireland's abortion ban constitutes 'inhuman' treatment

The United Nation's (U.N.) Human Rights Committee on Thursday released a report that found Ireland's near-total abortion ban exposed women to cruel, demeaning and prejudiced treatment, the AP/New York Times reports.


In 2013, Ireland's Parliament legalized abortion in cases only when the procedure is needed to save a woman's life, including when there is a medical consensus that a woman would commit suicide if the pregnancy continued. However, the law does not allow abortions in other instances, including rape, incest, fetal anomaly or when the fetus has no chance of survival.

Providers who perform abortions outside the law's limitations are subject to a 14-year prison sentence (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/23/15).

According to the AP/Times, the ban each year drives thousands of pregnant women in Ireland to travel to other countries, usually England, for abortion care. Since 2013, Ireland residents in multiple opinion polls have expressed majority support for legalizing abortion care in instances of rape, incest and fetal anomalies.

Report details

According to the AP/Times, the committee in its report accepted a complaint from Amanda Mellet, a resident of Dublin, Ireland, who in 2011 was denied abortion care despite a fatal fetal diagnosis.

Three weeks later, at 24 weeks' gestation, Mellet traveled to England to have an induced delivery, resulting in a stillborn birth. Mellet was barred from taking the fetal remains with her when she returned to Ireland by plane, and she was "deeply upset" three weeks after the procedure, when she received the cremated remains by courier.

According to the AP/Times, Mellet did not qualify for state-funded grief counseling because she induced delivery instead of miscarrying or carrying the pregnancy to term.

A midwifery professor at Trinity College Dublin and a clinical psychologist submitted testimony with Mellet's legal complaint, stating that Ireland's abortion ban needlessly traumatizes women forced to continue unviable pregnancies.

Committee says ban violates U.N. regulations

In its report, the U.N. Human Rights Committee concluded that Ireland's abortion ban violates the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It said the law unjustifiably prioritizes rights of unviable fetuses before those of women.

Further, citing Mellet's case, the committee determined that Ireland's restrictions on offering medical recommendations and care to women who travel to other countries for abortion care caused Mellet to experience "intense suffering." According to the committee, Mellet's experiences "amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

The report also concluded that the abortion ban's criminal penalities are "discriminatory because [they] plac[e] the burden of criminal liability primarily on the pregnant woman."

According to the AP/Times, the committee does not have the authority to compel Ireland to change its laws. However, the committee urged Ireland to ease its abortion ban in compliance with U.N. treaty requirements. According to the committee, Ireland's law should be amended to allow abortion in cases of fatal fetal anomalies.


Mellet urged Ireland to comply with the report's recommendations. "I hope the day will soon come when women in Ireland will be able to access the health services they need in our own country, where we can be with our loved ones, with our own medical team, and where we have our own familiar bed to go home [to]," she said, adding, "Subjecting women to so much additional pain and trauma simply must not continue."

Separately, reproductive-rights advocates said the report could renew pressure for Ireland to amend its restrictions. Ireland last altered its abortion ban in 2013, following the 2012 death of a woman who was denied abortion care in an Ireland hospital.

Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, said the committee's report "joins a chorus of expert voices reminding Ireland that its abortion regime is wildly out of kilter with abortion law and practice in the family of civilized nations."

Colm O'Gorman, Amnesty International's director in Ireland, said, "The Irish government must take its head out of the sand and see that it has to tackle this issue" (AP/New York Times, 6/9).