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International Human Rights Bodies Observations on Access to Abortion in Ireland


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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.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights


  • "The Commissioner notes with concern that despite the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the X case, still no legislation is in place to set a framework allowing for abortion in limited circumstances where a woman’s life is deemed to be in danger because of pregnancy, in compliance with domestic case law and the Irish Constitution.
  • "He observes that this lacuna caused the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 to find Ireland in breach of the right to respect for private life as guaranteed in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • "The Commissioner reiterates that the lack of legislation adversely affects women who do not have the financial means to seek medical services outside the country and are therefore particularly vulnerable. He notes that on 16 June 2011 the Government submitted to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers an action plan for the implementation of the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment in the case of A., B., and C.
  • "The Commissioner noted with interest that according to the action plan, the Government undertook to establish an expert group by November 2011 to make recommendations on how to implement the above judgment. The Commissioner hopes that this expert group will speedily fulfil its mandate and that a coherent legal framework including adequate services will be put in place without delay".

UN Committee against Torture


  • "The Committee expresses concern at the lack of clarity cited by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the absence of a legal framework through which differences of opinion could be resolved. Noting the risk of criminal prosecution and imprisonment facing both the women concerned and their physicians, the Committee expresses concern that this may raise issues that constitute a breach of the Convention.
  • "The Committee appreciates the intention of the State party, as expressed during the dialogue with the Committee, to establish an expert group to address the issue of abortion and the ECtHR's ruling. The Committee is nonetheless concerned further that despite the already existing case law allowing for abortion, no legislation is in place and that this leads to serious consequences in individual cases, especially affecting minors, migrant women, and the indigent. (articles 2 and 16)
  • "The Committee notes the concern expressed by the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) about the absence of an effective and accessible domestic procedure in the State party for establishing whether some pregnancies pose a real and substantial medical risk to the life of the mother [Case of A, B and C v. Ireland], which leads to uncertainty facing women and their medical doctors, who are also at risk of criminal investigation or punishment if their advice or treatment is deemed illegal.
  • "The Committee urges the State party to clarify the scope of legal abortion through statutory law and provide for adequate procedures to challenge differing medical opinions as well as adequate services for carrying out abortions in the State party, so that its law and practice is in conformity with the Convention."

Universal Periodic Review


  • In October 2011, Ireland’s human rights record was examined by other United Nation Member States at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR was established in 2006 to assess how individual States respect their human rights commitments. The process highlights any gaps in human rights fulfillment and protection in the State under review. Each Member State of the United Nations is reviewed under the UPR every four years.

    At the October 2011 review, six States: France, Denmark, UK, Slovenia, Spain, and the Netherlands made recommendations in relation to the restrictive abortion regime in Irish law. They also called for firm timelines for the implementation of the judgment of the European Convention and Human Rights in the case of A, B and C v Ireland. (Ireland’s law on abortion contravenes a number of UN human rights treaties which Ireland is a signatory of).

UN Human Rights Committee


  • "The Committee reiterates its concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in the State party. While noting the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, the Committee regrets that the progress in this regard is slow. (arts. 2, 3, 6, 26)

    "The State party should bring its abortion laws into line with the Covenant. It should take measures to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies so that they do not have to resort to illegal or unsafe abortions that could put their lives at risk (article 6) or to abortions abroad (articles 26 and 6)"


  • "The Committee is concerned that the circumstances in which women may lawfully obtain an abortion are restricted to when the life of the mother is in danger and do not include, for example, situations where the pregnancy is the result of rape.

    "The State party should ensure that women are not compelled to continue with pregnancies where that is incompatible with obligations arising under the Covenant (art. 7) and General Comment No. 28.

UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women


  • "While acknowledging positive developments in the implementation of article 12 of the Convention, in particular the Strategy to Address the Issue of Crisis Pregnancy (2003) that addresses information, education and advice on contraceptive services, the Committee reiterates its concern about the consequences of the very restrictive abortion laws under which abortion is prohibited except where it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother that can be averted only by the termination of her pregnancy.

    "The Committee urges the State party to continue to facilitate a national dialogue on women’s right to reproductive health, including on the very restrictive abortion laws. It also urges the State party to further strengthen family planning services, ensuring their availability to all women and men, young adults and teenagers."


  • "The Committee is concerned that, with very limited exceptions, abortion remains illegal in Ireland. Women who wish to terminate their pregnancies need to travel abroad. This creates hardship for vulnerable groups, such as female asylum seekers who cannot leave the territory of the State.

    The Committee urges the Government to facilitate a national dialogue on women’s reproductive rights, including on the restrictive abortion laws. It also urges the Government to further improve family planning services and the availability of contraception, including for teenagers and young adults. It also urges the Government to promote the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS."

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights


  • "The Commissioner is concerned that despite the already existing case law allowing for abortion under limited circumstances, no legislation is in place to ensure this happening in practice. This leads to serious consequences in each individual case but especially in such cases in which vulnerable women such as minors and migrants are concerned. In this context, he recalls the European Court’s judgment against Poland in which a violation of Article 8, the effective respect for private life, was found due to defective domestic abortion legislation. He urges the Irish authorities and the legislator to ensure that legislation is enacted to resolve this problem and that adequate medical services are provided in Ireland to carry out legal abortions in line with the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court."



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