Source: RTE News 9th June, 2016
Ireland’s ban on abortion subjected a woman carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the United Nations has found.
It called for the strict prohibition to be reversed, including reforming the right to life of the unborn in the Constitution if necessary, to allow women to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy safely.
Independent experts, from the Geneva-based Human Rights Committee, said Amanda Mellet was forced to choose between carrying her baby to term, knowing it would not survive, or travelling abroad for a termination.
The UN body also hit out at the Government for putting her through financial and emotional suffering.
Its report said she had to pick “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 UN has ordered the Government to compensate Ms Mellet and ensure she gets the adequate psychological treatment she may need and to prevent similar violations from occurring.
Ms Mellet was 21 weeks pregnant in November 2011 when doctors told her the foetus would die in her womb or shortly after birth.
She travelled to the UK for an abortion but had to return home 12 hours after the procedure as she could not afford to stay longer.
The UN committee said the hospital where she was treated did not provide any options regarding the foetus’s remains and she had to leave them behind.
Three weeks later the ashes were unexpectedly delivered to her by courier.
Ms Mellet filed a complaint with the UN over her experiences.
The human rights organisation said she was discriminated against by being denied bereavement counselling and medical care available to women who miscarry.
It said this did not take into account her medical needs and socio-economic circumstances.
“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 said.
The UN also noted the shame and stigma associated with the criminalisation of abortion of a fatally-ill foetus.
It said Ms Mellet’s suffering was aggravated by the obstacles she faced in getting information about the appropriate medical options.
The UN said the strict rules that support groups in Ireland can provide on information have a chilling effect on healthcare workers.
It said some struggle to distinguish between support for a woman who has decided to terminate a pregnancy and promoting abortion.
In its findings the UN said: “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 in Ireland, and 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.”
Ireland’s stringent rules on abortion are protected under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution which deals with the right to life of the unborn.
Last year new rules came into effect under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 to allow for abortion when there is a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life – including suicide.
But the ban remains on termination in cases of rape, incest, inevitable miscarriage and fatal foetal abnormality.
In a statement this afternoon, Ms Mellet said: “I am profoundly grateful to the Human Rights Committee for its decision and its clear recognition that my human rights were violated as a result of Ireland’s prohibition and criminalisation of abortion.
“The decision not only vindicates my rights. It also serves to uphold the rights of many other women in Ireland who have faced and continue to face human rights violations under the current legal regime.”
Mixed reaction to report
A group opposed to abortion has criticised the UN report.
Tracy Harkin of Every Life Counts said that the UN had “deliberately ignored the experiences of families who had received great joy and love from carrying their babies to term”, and added that it was “shameful for the UN to ignore the fact that these children were alive and kicking in the womb, and deserved equal protection and love”.
She said: “The language used by the UN reflects the appalling attitude of discrimination which is pushing families towards abortion, and denies them time with their sick babies, time that allows them to make memories and provides a pathway to healing.
“Our experiences with our children, whether their lives spanned hours, weeks or years, has taught us that abortion solves nothing and brings no comfort to either the baby or the family involved.”
The Pro Life Campaign has said the comments were further proof that the committee “is 100% partisan in favour of abortion and never takes account of the hugely damaging effects of abortion on both mother and baby”.
Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign said: “The UN’s Human Rights Committee has become a de facto lobby group for abortion. Every few months they castigate Ireland’s abortion laws but are totally silent when it comes to investigating abuses in the abortion industry.
“It is unbelievable how one-sided they have become and they need to be called out on it. The same committee that is always challenging Ireland on its abortion laws has never once taken countries like Britain and Canada to task over the horrific practice of babies being born alive after failed abortions and left to die in hospital corners.”
Terminations for Medical Reasons welcomed the decision of the committee saying “The Committee has determined that Ireland, by refusing access to safe and legal abortion services, is abusing women by treating them in a cruel, inhuman and degrading manner.”
In a statement the group commended Ms Mellet for the “brave and selfless manner in which she took her complaint against Ireland to the UN, with the assistance of the Center for Reproductive Rights.”
“This UN decision makes it incumbent upon Ireland to act promptly to take measures to prevent further abuse. It is bad enough that our Government is complicit in this, but any delays would make them architects of such abuse” the statement said.
The Catholic Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin has said he has some difficulty with outside bodies telling Ireland what to do on abortion law.
The Archbishop of Armagh said it was a choice for Irish people, adding that the right to life trumped all other rights, including the right to choose, and if that was taken away then everything else crumbled.
He also cited the thousands who came out last weekend for a ProLife rally celebrating the Eighth Amendment and he questioned why anyone would take that equality away.
He said the church position remains to respect the life of mothers and unborn children.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the report “cranks up the pressure” on the Government to reform Ireland’s “antediluvian” abortion laws.
ICCL Executive Director Mark Kelly said: “This latest denunciation of one aspect of Ireland’s abortion regime comes as no surprise, as it was already a matter of public record that UN Human Rights Committee considers that Ireland’s abortion law violates the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“This latest opinion has no direct legal effect in this State; however, it 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 civilised nations.”
In the Dáil, Independents4Change TD Clare Daly said she would like to ask how the Government proposes to deal with this morning’s “ground breaking international decision issued against Ireland by the UN Human Rights’ Commission where Ireland as a state party to the international covenant on civil and political rights was found guilty of violating the human rights of a woman who was denied a determination in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality.”
She said “not only is the Government in the statement obliged to provide her with an effective remedy, including compensation, but obliged to prevent similar violations in the future.
“So can the minister [Richard Bruton] confirm the Government will be awarding compensation to the woman in question and what steps are you immediately going to take to ensure that human rights are not being violated by addressing the legislative shortcomings, including as suggested by the UNHRC the amendment of our Constitution in relation to the same issue?”
Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly asked; “When are we going to see the Citizens Assembly? When will the membership be known? And will it be mandated to recommend a referendum on repealing the Eight Amendment?”
Independent TD Catherine Connolly called for an answer to the question posed to Mr Bruton by Ms Daly.
She read out the UN finding, and said: “I listened to the Taoiseach misquote what has happened in relation to various amendments to the Constitution.
“It is important that the voices of women are heard in this chamber.”
AAA/PBP TD Joan Collins said she would like the minister to reply to Ms Daly’s question and added, “I don’t think we should be going through a Citizens’ Convention on this issue.
“We have discussed this in the last Dáil in a lot of detail and we should be moving quite quickly now to repealing the Eight Amendment.”
Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan reiterated that the discussion take place as soon as possible in the convention so the issue of the Eight Amendment can be addressed.
Responding, Mr Bruton said he has not seen the report from the Committee on Human Rights but he sympathises and understands the concerns of TDs for any woman with a fatal foetal abnormality.
He said he cannot answer for what action Government will take on foot of this finding.
He said that change in this area requires an amendment of our Constitution and the Programme for Government has set out that there will be a Citizen’s Assembly established within six months.
Mr Bruton said it will not have a specific mandate and the Oireachtas will have the final decision on this.
He said that in the last Dáil, the work in holding hearings, bringing in expert advice and allowing deputies to see in a dispassionate way how difficult issues can be handled, was of benefit to the Oireachtas.
The minister said that it allowed the Dáil to reach conclusions on the issue of constitutional rights being converted into law that no government had broached in the previous years.
Ms Daly said it is not acceptable to say he cannot answer for the Government on this issue.
Meanwhile, an independent expert on the UN Committee has said the Irish Government must amend its law and possibly the Constitution in relation to fatal foetal abnormalities.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Sarah Cleveland said the law is in contradiction with Ireland’s obligations under the European Union human rights treaty.
Ms Cleveland said Ireland must also review and amend laws so that healthcare providers can provide people, who find themselves in such a situation, with adequate information on their choices without fear of legal repercussions.
She acknowledged that the matter is a sensitive issue in Ireland but said that families should have the right to chose whether they carry to full term or chose to terminate in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.
She said the Committee does not have any enforcement mechanisms but added that Ireland can be pressed on the matter at future appearances before the UN committee.