Ireland’s Abortion Ban Is Cruel, Inhuman, and Discriminatory, Says U.N.

Pro-choice activists in Ireland.
Pro-choice activists in Ireland. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The U.N.’s Human Rights Committee determined that Ireland violated a woman’s human rights by forcing her to choose between carrying a fetus to term, which she knew would die in the womb or shortly after birth, or travel abroad to have an abortion. The committee said the woman should be compensated and that the ban should be lifted in the case of fatal fetal anomalies.

In 2011, Amanda Mellet was 21 weeks pregnant when her doctors discovered her fetus had severe congenital defects and that it would not survive outside the womb. Abortions are allowed when the mother’s life is at risk (including from the threat of suicide), but they are not permitted in the cases of rape, incest, or fatal fetal abnormality. And while Irish doctors are permitted to give information about abortion services available in Ireland and overseas, they face criminal sanctions if such advice could be construed as suggesting a woman terminate her pregnancy.

Mellet had to choose between continuing this nonviable pregnancy or traveling outside the country at her own expense to have an abortion — something thousands of Irish women and girls do every year. She went to England and returned 12 hours after the procedure since she couldn’t afford to stay longer.

She had to leave the fetus’s remains behind, but they were unexpectedly mailed to her three weeks later. The panel also found she was denied bereavement counseling available to women who miscarry.

The committee determined that Mellet was subjected to discrimination and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and urged that Ireland provide her with adequate compensation and psychological treatment, as well as take steps to make sure similar human-rights violations don’t happen in the future. Specifically, they said:

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 in Ireland, and take measures to ensure that health-care providers are in a position to supply full information on safe abortion services without fearing being subjected to criminal sanctions.

This is the first time that an international human-rights committee has said that a country’s abortion ban violates a woman’s human rights. The Guardian called it “a ground-breaking judgment that is expected to set an international precedent.”

Perhaps the Irish government could find it in its heart to reverse abortion bans in the cases of rape and incest while they’re at it? Maybe at this rate, Irish women will have full reproductive rights by 2086.

Irish Abortion Ban Is Cruel, Inhuman, Says U.N.