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20th June 2017, 11:45:07 UTC

As Oireachtas Committee meets for the first time, Amnesty International calls for access to abortion on request in early pregnancy.

Amnesty International has reiterated its call for access to abortion on request in early pregnancy following a news report that two women who had attempted suicide were initially denied access to abortion services in Ireland before finally being deemed eligible. The cases outlined by the Abortion Support Network (ASN) and reported in The Times involved two immigrant women who did not have the required visas to travel to the UK. This report comes just one week after an adolescent girl was detained under mental health legislation rather than provided with an abortion under the suicide ground of the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

Today’s report further proves that legislation framed around ‘minimum grounds’ to access abortion will not guarantee effective access. Both the 2013 Act and the Department of Health Guidance that followed are narrow and restrictive. They fail to provide practical assistance to medical professionals in grappling with how exactly they are to assess when a pregnancy poses a “real and substantial” risk to the life of a woman or girl, leaving these important judgement calls subject to vagueness and subjectivity. The cases reported today raise serious questions about how women can be effectively forced to prove they are suicidal and need an abortion.

“Yet again, details of two distressing cases where women were at first denied access to abortion have emerged. Though they clearly qualified for access under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, the women were forced to undergo distressing assessment processes which are inherently degrading before they finally were granted access. So, even if the very narrow situation where abortion is lawful in Ireland – where they might die – women must jump though unfair and unnecessary hoops. Today’s report highlights once again why any reform of Ireland’s abortion laws must avoid the barriers grounds-based legislation bring. It is unlikely that adding further ‘grounds’ to the current law would facilitate meaningful access. Evolving international human rights law standards, international public health evidence and the experience of other countries recommends providing access to abortion on request, at least during early pregnancy. This would provide meaningful access on the grounds required under international human rights law and would therefore be a human rights compliant approach.

The Government and new Joint Oireachtas Committee, which sits for the first time tomorrow, must heed this international evidence. The Citizens’ Assembly further endorsed this approach by a two-thirds majority in April calling for access to abortion in a range of circumstances. This is the best way to avoid putting women and girls through traumatic and unnecessary procedures that can delay or deny access to abortion,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

International law requires a human rights compliant abortion framework which ensures safe and timely access to abortion services both in law and practice, and for all women and girls. In its submission and address to the Citizens’ Assembly, Amnesty International set out why legislation is necessary to not only permit expanded access to abortion, but to also ensure and compel the delivery and availability of abortion services. Amnesty International is calling for a full repeal of the Eighth Amendment; full decriminalisation of abortion; and the introduction of a human rights compliant framework for access to and information about abortion.

Amnesty International Ireland’s submission to the Citizens’ 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. (PDF)