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29th June 2017, 13:31:58 UTC

Amnesty International reiterates need for access on request at least in early pregnancy to ensure a human rights compliant abortion framework

Amnesty International today welcomed the recommendations put forward by the Citizens’ Assembly in the report written by its Chair, Justice Mary Laffoy. In April, members of the Citizens’ Assembly called for expansive reform of Ireland’s abortion laws. In addition to overwhelming backing for the removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution, they voted by a two-thirds majority for access to abortion on request at least in early pregnancy, and by even greater majorities for later gestational limits in specific circumstances.

Today’s report also contains important “ancillary recommendations” from the Assembly on how abortion services will be funded and provided; on sexual health and relationship education for children and young people; reproductive healthcare services; equal access to obstetric care, including early scanning and testing, for all women throughout the country; and improved pregnancy and abortion counselling and support.

“The outcome of the Citizens’ Assembly was a momentous affirmation of the human rights of women and girls in Ireland. Members of the Assembly examined the issue of abortion in detail over five weekends. They recommended that women and girls have access to abortion in a wide range of circumstances, including on request at least in early pregnancy, and later gestational limits in additional circumstances. Today’s report sets out a framework that would substantially meet the minimum requirements of international human rights law. However, abortion must also be fully decriminalised. While the report notes the support for decriminalising abortion amongst members, the Assembly was not provided with the opportunity to vote on this as a recommendation. This gap must be addressed by the new Joint Oireachtas Committee.  Ireland is obliged under international human rights law to fully decriminalise abortion.

“Ireland’s laws on access to and information about abortion are abusive and intolerable. The government has been instructed to reform these laws by five UN human rights treaty bodies. It has been found by the UN to have inflicted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on two women by making them travel abroad for abortions. This needs to stop. Today, we have a roadmap for reform. There can be no more excuses and no more delays,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“The new Joint Oireachtas Committee must take this report as the minimum blueprint for its work. It must fully translate this report’s recommendations into action, with women’s health and human rights its focus. We need to have a referendum on the Eighth Amendment scheduled at the soonest possible opportunity. We need to see legislation drafted to implement the sort of abortion framework envisaged in today’s report. During our address to the Assembly in March, we outlined why access to abortion on request at least in early pregnancy is a vital part of such a framework. The Citizens’ Assembly listened, and so must this new Committee. Ground-based access alone cannot work. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 proves that point. In the past few weeks we have seen reports of the obstacles placed before a suicidal adolescent and two suicidal migrant women seeking abortions. Even under the lawful suicide ground, they were forced to undergo distressing and unnecessary assessment procedures. According to the third annual report on the Act published by the Department of Health today, only one ‘termination’ was performed on the suicide ground in 2016. This shows how meaningless this ground likely is for many women. We need laws that respect – not violate – women’s rights.

“We also need clarity from the government on whether, as the report says, simply repealing Article 40.3.3 could inadvertently create legal uncertainty.  Then, if this risk is confirmed, we need quickly to see any replacement language proposed to copper-fasten the Oireachtas’ ability to legislate for women’s comprehensive access to abortion. The Assembly’s ancillary recommendations must also be heeded. Its recommendation that sexuality education be provided to children and young people, within and beyond the school system, must be implemented. This was a matter of concern for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child when reviewing Ireland’s children’s rights record in 2016,” said Colm O’Gorman.

The Citizens’ Assembly’s overwhelming support for removing the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution tallies with how the Irish public feels, according to independent polling commissioned by Amnesty International in February 2016. The polling, conducted by Red C Research, and Markets found that 80% of people in Ireland would vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, either outright or if legislation placing reasonable restrictions on abortion were put in place. The Assembly’s recommendations on when abortion should be lawful also reflect the poll findings. The overwhelming majority of people in Ireland – across all regions of the country, and all age groups and demographics – favour expanded access to abortion.

“We would like to again thank the members of the Citizens’ Assembly for their exceptional work. Their commitment to supporting the human rights of women and girls was truly commendable. We would also like to recognise the work of the Chair, Justice Mary Laffoy, and the Secretariat throughout this process.  It’s now time for the Government to act on the recommendations set out by the Assembly. It is long past time that the Irish state fully respected the human rights of women and girls,” said Colm O’Gorman.

Amnesty International’s submission to the Assembly summarises the harm and human rights violations caused by Ireland’s criminalisation and prohibition of abortion. A copy of the submission is available here: http://bit.ly/AISubmission (PDF)

The Amnesty International/Red C Research & Markets poll was conducted in February 2016 to establish a deeper understanding of public attitudes to Ireland’s laws on abortion. The poll’s complete findings are available here: http://amnesty.ie/poll