Pregnant women in Ireland are treated like “child-bearing vessels” whose rights are violated on a daily basis if they happen to need an abortion, Amnesty International said, in a report released Tuesday. The country’s current anti-abortion law -- which has been under scrutiny since 2012, when a woman died after being denied a medically-induced abortion -- has frequently been decried as one of the most restrictive in the world.
“Every day, between 10 and 12 women and girls living in Ireland travel to England for an abortion,” Amnesty said, in its report, which includes testimonies from several women who were forced to seek abortion abroad. “Human rights obligations require the decriminalization of abortion and that states ensure access to abortion, at a minimum, when a woman’s life and physical and mental health is in danger … International human rights laws and standards are clear that women should not face criminal penalties for undergoing abortions. Ireland’s abortion law fails to comply with these human rights obligations.”
Under the country’s current law, a woman can only seek abortion if continuing the pregnancy poses an immediate threat to her life. Moreover, doctors and counselors are prohibited from providing women with information on how to get an abortion safely. The law also bans women from getting abortions in cases of rape, and if they are found to have had an abortion illegally, they face up to 14 years in prison -- forcing many to travel to countries like England to terminate their pregnancy.
“I didn’t feel safe at all…I was feeling really scared because it became clear to me, that if any complication was raised, these people would let me die,” Lupe, a resident of Ireland who is originally from Spain, told Amnesty, recounting her ordeal when she was forced to carry a dead fetus in her womb for two months as Irish doctors waited to make sure that it was not alive. She eventually traveled to Spain for an abortion.
“This is the saddest thing in my whole life … After two months with a dead embryo in my womb --you can have an infection or something and only three months before this, this was the hospital where Savita had died,” Lupe told Amnesty, referring to the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian woman who was denied abortion in 2012 in a hospital in Galway.
“Ireland must amend the constitution and remove the protection of the foetus. This needs to happen urgently,” Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said, in a statement.
On Tuesday, the United Nations also criticized the Irish government for failing to carry out a referendum to amend its anti-abortion law, alleging that the separation of the state and the church in the country was still a “bit fuzzy.”
“Ireland had one of the most punitive and restrictive laws on abortion because of the constitutional right to life of an unborn foetus, which trumped the right of women to sexual and reproductive health and resulted in the criminalization of abortion,” the U.N.’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said, in a statement released Tuesday.