UN ruling on abortion laws
Both sides in Ireland's fractious abortion debate have responded along predictable lines to a call by the United Nation's Human Rights Committee on the Government to reform Ireland's abortion legislation after ruling that it subjected a woman to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and violated her human rights.
The ruling calls on Ireland to introduce "accessible procedures for pregnancy termination" to prevent similar violations in the future. The judgement 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.
The UN Human Rights Committee panel found that Ireland's prohibition and criminalisation of abortion services subjected the woman concerned to severe emotional and mental pain and suffering in 2011, when she was told she could not have an abortion in this country 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 the complaint, the committee concluded that Ireland's abortion laws meant that she had to choose "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 had violated her right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
In response, the pro-choice movement has increased pressure on the Government to reform Ireland's "antediluvian" abortion laws and has called on the Government to immediately recommend a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment, which introduced a constitutional ban on abortion here by recognising a right to life of an unborn child. The pro-life movement, meanwhile, has referred to the UN's Human Rights Committee as a "de facto lobby group for abortion" which "every few months" castigates Ireland's abortion laws but was silent when it came to "investigating abuses in the abortion industry". The Every Life Counts group has also 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 it was "shameful for the UN to ignore the fact that these children deserved equal protection and love".
The Government has said it will address the UN committee findings through the framework of a Citizens' Convention and a special Dail committee. However, there has been no clarity as yet on when the Citizens' Convention will be set up or what its make-up will be. That is a decision for Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who has said there is a need to gauge the consensus for change among Irish people in relation to the Eighth Amendment. "This is something that is so traumatic and sensitive and personal for some people and families," he said. "It has divided Irish society for a long time. I myself have struggled with this. It's a profound issue."
Mr Kenny is correct to state that this is a sensitive issue which has divided society here, but it is also something the people may have to address again. The issue should be referred to a Citizens' Convention at an earliest opportunity, and if a referendum is recommended, the people of Ireland alone will ultimately decide on the profound issues related to Ireland's abortion laws.