UN attacks Irish abortion rules
Published 24/07/2014 | 14:49
A United Nations human rights watchdog has called on Ireland to revise its strict rules on abortion.
In a scathing attack on the country's record on women's rights, the body said that limits on when pregnancy could be terminated were highly restrictive and lacked clarity on the meaning of what was a real and substantive risk to a mother's life.
The UN said the Constitution needed to be rewritten to allow for abortion.
Less than seven months since the law came into practice, the UN said pregnant and suicidal women were put through an excessive degree of scrutiny compounding their mental distress if they sought an abortion.
The hard-hitting review said the Government must make these revisions to deal humanely with cases of rape, incest, serious risks to the health of the mother and fatal foetal abnormality.
In its report, the UN said: "The Committee reiterates its previous concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in the State party owing to Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and its strict interpretation."
The UN's damning human rights review reported on 19 issues in Ireland - five of which were specific to the treatment of women.
Its report said there had been a failure to hold prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigations into the abuse of women and children in Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes.
It also warned there had only been low levels of prosecutions for mistreatment and neglect in the institutions.
ICCL director Mark Kelly said the UN report had identified a root common cause.
"(It is) the ongoing failure in our law, policy and practice to respect the human rights, autonomy and bodily integrity of women," he said.
The UN also referred to the harrowing and barbaric practice of symphysiotomy performed on about 1,500 women between 1944 and 1987 without their free and informed consent.
It said the Government failed to hold a prompt, independent investigation or to identify, prosecute and punish the perpetrators, including doctors.
It also criticised the lack of action to provide redress for sufferers.
The UN went on to criticise the slow pace of reform of the constitution including article 41.2 on the role of women in the home.
The report also raised concerns over the glass ceiling in the workplace which it said meant women were continually under-represented in both public and private sectors, particularly in decision-making positions.
Domestic and sexual violence against women remained a serious problem, the UN said, with no comprehensive data collection system on the crime and administrative and financial obstacles for marginalised women to access essential support services.
The report criticised the treatment of victims of human trafficking and lack of a recovery and reflection period or temporary residence.
The UN also said it backed the campaign to ban smacking.
It said that travellers were still not fully recognised as a distinct ethnic group despite the issue being previously raised as a human rights failing.
Other areas which the watchdog examined included concerns that Ireland had a blasphemy law, that the holders of high office must swear a religious oath and over reports of non-consensual psychiatric medication, electroshock and other restrictive and coercive practices in mental health units.
It raised concerns that the Garda Ombudsman could not function independently and effectively examine police practices, policies and procedures, and the length of time taken to complete investigations due to a lack of co-operation by officers.
The report urged the use of community sanctions instead of prison time for minor crimes, in particular for non-payment of fines, while it also hit out at slow progress in ending the practice of slopping out.
Also in the justice sphere it questioned the use of the Special Criminal Court to put gang members on trial.
The UN criticised gender recognition reforms which required for married transgender people to dissolve an existing marriage or civil partnership to have their preferred gender formally recognised.
Amnesty International said the report is a crystal clear warning that the abortion legislation is out of kilter with international human rights law.
Executive director in Ireland Colm O'Gorman said: "Ireland can no longer get away with criminalising abortion and relying on the fact that some women and girls can travel abroad to access their lawful right to an abortion.
"This amounts to shirking its obligation to ensure access to safe and legal abortions."
Mr O'Gorman also said that Ireland's reputation will suffer if steps are not taken over the issues raised by the UN about inquiries into the Magdalene and mother and baby legacies.
Betty Purcell, spokeswoman for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Designate (IHREC designate) said: "Now it is time for the state to act."
The IHREC said a parliamentary oversight mechanism must be set up to monitor how the Government responds to the UN.
The report was attacked by the Pro Life Campaign, which said the recent hearings in Geneva were a charade.
Deputy chair Cora Sherlock said the UN approaches abortion issues with a partisan attitude which undermines credibility.
"The UN's Human Rights Committee has shown itself to be incredibly biased on abortion and has not the slightest concern for the rights of unborn babies throughout the full nine months of pregnancy," she said.
"It's an extraordinarily serious matter that a UN body like the HRC has zero regard for the rights of unborn babies."