Access to safe and legal abortion services is a human rights issue. Irish abortion laws deny women and girls their most fundamental rights to live in dignity, to self determination and to exercise these rights without discrimination when access to abortion is criminalised in almost all circumstances. The Irish State has been consistently criticised by several international human rights bodies for its failure to legislate and regulate access to abortion services in violation of its obligations under several human rights treaties.
The overwhelming European consensus on abortion allows for the balancing women's health and wellbeing with that of the fetus by applying a more effective, less punitive approach than in force in Ireland. Abortion is available when the pregnant woman or girl's health is at risk in 44 of 47 European countries. This approach is consistent with the key human right standard of proportionality which requires that laws and policies applied to regulate access to abortion cannot excessively interfere with women's rights to life, health, privacy, freedom from cruel and in humane treatment and non discrimination. In Ireland, the application of criminal and constitutional laws on abortion disproportionately seek to protect the foetus in virtually all circumstances without consideration for women's human rights.
On December 17th 2012 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Mr. Anand Grover, called for the decriminalisation of abortion during a seminar – organised by the Women’s Human Rights Alliance – in Dublin.
Mr. Grover’s call for the decriminalisation of abortion came exactly two years after the landmark European Court of Human Rights judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland case.
Mr. Anand Grover told the seminar that, in cases where a barrier to health is created by a criminal law or other legal restrictions, it is the obligation of the State to remove it. Barriers arising from criminal laws and other laws and policies affecting sexual and reproductive health must, he said, be immediately removed in order to ensure full enjoyment of the right to health.
During the event, Mr. Grover outlined the impact of criminalisation of sexual and reproductive health services, particularly in relation to women, and how criminalisation impinges on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
He also discussed how laws and other legal restrictions are used to regulate abortion, conduct during pregnancy, sexual and reproductive education, and contraception and family planning. Mr. Grover also outlined the negative impact that such criminal laws and other legal restrictions have on healthcare. Read the IFPA's press release here.
Several international human rights bodies have expressed concern over the impact of Ireland's restrictive abortion laws on women's human rights, including: UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner. Read more here.