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UN: Ireland´s Ban on Abortions for Fatal Foetal Abnormalities “Inhuman and Degrading”

Ireland´s ban on abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities has been described as “inhuman and degrading” by the United Nations´ Human Rights Committee.

According to Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, the right to life of an unborn foetus is protected unless the mother´s health is at risk. The ban on abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities means that mothers carrying unborn children with no hope of survival after birth have to leave Ireland to have a termination.

One such mother was Amanda Mellet. Amanda was given the devastating news in November 2011 that her unborn child would die in the womb or shortly after birth due to a fatal foetal anomaly. Amanda travelled alone to the UK to have a termination and – due to limited funds – had to return to Ireland just twelve hours after undergoing the procedure.

Unlike cases in which women suffer miscarriages, Amanda did not receive any post-operative medical care in Ireland or bereavement counselling – a situation that was aggravated when the ashes of her unborn child were delivered to her by courier three weeks later. Amanda also felt stigmatised by having circumnavigated Ireland´s ban on abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities.

Amanda co-founded the organization “Termination for Medical Reasons” in order to campaign for a change to the ban on abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities. She also contacted the European branch of the Centre for Reproductive Rights – who filed a complaint on Amanda´s behalf with the United Nations´ Human Rights Committee.

Earlier this week, the Committee upheld the complaint and described Ireland´s ban on abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities as “inhuman and degrading”. The Committee said that the ban discriminated against Amanda and jeopardised her well-being by subjecting her to unnecessary financial and emotional suffering.

The Human Rights Committee reported: “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.”

In addition to telling the Government to reverse the ban on abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities, the Committee said that the state should compensate Amanda for failing to take her medical needs and socio-economic circumstances into account. The Committee commented that many of the negative events Amanda had experienced could have been avoided if she had had been allowed to terminate the pregnancy “in the familiar environment of her own country and under the care of health professionals whom she knew and trusted.”