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Ireland: Nils Muižnieks’ national report – the key points on abortion

In his report on Ireland, Nils Muižnieks, the Commissioner for Human Rights, reviews women’s access to abortion.

His report states: “Everyday, between 10 and 12 women and girls living in Ireland travel to England for an abortion.

“NGOs stress that this travel is a high burden for the woman and has harmful impact on the continuity of care. In addition, they observe that forcing people to travel abroad is discriminatory as not everyone has the freedom or the financial means to do so. This means that poor women, asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants among others cannot access the necessary health care.

“They either continue unwanted pregnancies to term or resort to clandestine abortion, increasingly by way of abortion pills often without any medical supervision, as this would constitute a criminal offence.

“As concerns access to safe and legal abortion, the commissioner notes that Ireland possesses one of the most restrictive legal frameworks on abortion in Europe, whose negative impact on women’s rights has been widely documented in recent years.

“The commissioner recalls that the lawfulness of abortion does not have an effect on a woman’s need for an abortion, but only on her access to a safe abortion

“Abortion bans also do not result in fewer abortions but mainly lead to clandestine abortions, which are more traumatic and increase maternal mortality. Where they result in abortions performed abroad, these bans also entail costs, delay the timing of an abortion and deepen social inequalities.

“The commissioner recalls that relevant international bodies, and in particular the UN Human Rights Committee and the CEDAW, have on several occasions highlighted concerns relating to the criminalisation of abortion in Ireland as well as in other countries, notably owing to the severe mental suffering that the denial of abortion services causes to the pregnant woman in cases of rape, incest, serious risks to the health of the mother, or fatal foetal abnormality, in breach of their right to be free from torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment.

“The commissioner notes that the criminalisation of abortion has a chilling effect on doctors who must decide whether the restrictive requirements of legal abortion are met in individual cases. He recalls that the European Court of Human Rights has considered that provisions regulating the availability of lawful abortion should be formulated in such a way as to alleviate this chilling effect.

“The commissioner strongly urges the Irish authorities to make progress towards a legislative regime that is more respectful of the human rights of women, including their right to be free from ill -treatment, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the right to private life.

“He stresses that the best way to ensure the attainment of this objective is to remove all legal provisions impeding access to safe and legal abortion, including by decriminalising abortion within reasonable gestational limits. At the very minimum however, the Irish authorities should ensure that abortions performed to preserve the physical and mental health of women, or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest are made lawful.”

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