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Ireland’s new abortion guidelines endanger the lives and rights of women and girls

19th September 2014, 13:05:23 UTC

Ireland’s latest guidelines on abortion are mere window-dressing that will confuse health professionals and endanger the lives and rights of women and girls, said Amnesty International.

“The only thing these guidelines really clarify is the incredibly restrictive and unworkable nature of the existing law,” said Elisa Slattery, sexual and reproductive rights researcher at Amnesty International.

“Drawing up burdensome guidelines to implement a highly restrictive law that is out of kilter with international human rights standards is an exercise in futility. Issuing guidelines to poor legislation isn’t enough; we need a completely different approach.”

The guidelines issued today by the Department of Health are intended to ensure that a pregnant woman or girl can access a lawful abortion when there is a “real and substantial risk” to her life.

This is the only exception permitted under the Irish law known as Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013 (the Act).

But instead of clarifying the Act for the health professionals tasked with implementing it, the guidelines reflect and exacerbate its many shortcomings.

They fail miserably to address the most pressing issue of the Act – how exactly medical professionals are to assess when a pregnancy poses a “real and substantial” risk to the life of a woman or girl.

“The guidelines literally relegate the well-being of women and girls to a footnote,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“And they still require health professionals to engage in a constitutional balancing act when making decisions about whether a woman or girl qualifies for an abortion.”

“Rather than piecemeal measures which provide illusory access to abortion to save a woman or girl’s life, Amnesty International calls on Ireland to fully decriminalise abortion.”

The Act, and Ireland’s underlying legal framework on abortion, have been repeatedly condemned for not adhering to international human rights standards on abortion.

Most recently, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a scathing criticism of Ireland’s abortion laws.

The Committee voiced particular concern about how the Act criminalises abortion, including in cases of rape, incest, serious risks to the health of the pregnant woman or girl, and fatal foetal abnormality.

It also voiced concern at how the law’s requirements of excessive scrutiny of pregnant and suicidal women lead to further mental distress.

See also:

Amnesty International raised a number of these issues with the UN Human Rights Committee http://amnesty.org/en/library/info/EUR29/001/2014/en

My Body My Rights is Amnesty International’s global campaign to stop the control and criminalisation of sexuality and reproduction by governments on others. Over 2014-2015, the campaign is working for change in people’s lives in a number of countries, including Ireland. This campaign aims to remind world leaders of their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil sexual and reproductive rights. For more information see: https://campaigns.amnesty.org/campaigns/my-body-my-rights