Groundbreaking ruling on access to abortion will have international impact
Amnesty International Ireland today welcomed Minister for Health, Simon Harris’s commitment to make reparations to Amanda Mellet for the harm caused to her by Ireland’s abortions laws. Reacting to the government’s agreement to provide Ms Mellet with compensation and counselling for the violations found by the UN Human Rights Committee, Amnesty International called for prompt and meaningful action on the remainder of the Committee’s ruling concerning legal reform and abortion service provision.
The UN Committee found that, in denying Ms Mellet access to abortion in Ireland, she was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, discrimination, and violation of her right to privacy. It said that Ireland had subjected Ms Mellet to “intense physical and mental suffering”. The UN Committee further found that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws together with the criminalisation of abortion stigmatised Ms Mellet and that her suffering was aggravated by the obstacles she faced in getting information about her medical options.
“We are heartened that the government has accepted the UN Committee’s findings, by offering compensation and counselling for the harm Ms Mellet suffered. This response acknowledges the harm caused to women by the current law. The government must now comply with the Committee’s ruling that Ireland reform its laws to ensure that no woman or girl will ever face similar human rights violations. We have tentatively welcomed the Citizens’ Assembly process. It needs to be a meaningful pathway toward full and prompt human rights compliance – for all women, not just those with a diagnosis of fatal foetal impairment. Anything less than this, and a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, is unacceptable.
“There must also be broad acceptance of the suffering Ireland’s abortion law inflicts on thousands of women and girls who are denied abortions every year. The Human Rights Committee has recognised the trauma experienced by Ms Mellet as a result of both criminalising abortion and forcing her to travel abroad to access medical care. This is likely also the experience of countless other women and girls setting out on the same journey every day. Furthermore, thousands of Irish women are forced to break the criminal law by obtaining abortifacient medication online to end their pregnancies. This medication is safe but should be used with medical supervision, which Irish law prohibits,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
The World Health Organisation has repeatedly cautioned that abortion bans like Ireland’s do not stop abortions –instead they force women and girls to seek safe abortion services in another country or to resort to clandestine means without medical support. The Mellet v Ireland decision was the first individual case where an international human rights body found that the prohibition and criminalisation of abortion in itself resulted in human rights violations. In other cases before international committees and courts where violations were found, abortion was permitted by law but inaccessible in practice.
“Not only was Ms Mellet’s complaint vindicated by this UN Committee, it resulted in a groundbreaking decision which will help advance women’s and girls’ rights around the world. Ireland’s having promptly accepted this ruling is an important and commendable step. We hope that today’s outcome means that Ireland will finally and fully respect the human rights of women and girls. The true test of its commitment will lie in its scheduling of a referendum to allow the Irish people to vote on repealing the Eighth Amendment,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Note to editors:
The UN Human Rights Committee can hear cases brought by individuals against their governments to determine whether laws violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a key human rights treaty ratified by Ireland in 1989. In this case, in addition to recommending that compensation be made to Ms Mellet, it called on Ireland to “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 health-care providers are in a position to supply full information on safe abortion services without fearing being subjected to criminal sanctions”.
The Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) lodged the complaint to the Committee on Ms Mellet’s behalf in November 2013. In June 2016, CRR together with Amnesty International Ireland, the Irish Family Planning Association, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, and Termination for Medical Reasons held a joint press conference in Dublin to urge the Irish government to comply with the ruling without delay.