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Abortion: State Failing Women’s Right to Health

By June 9, 2015News

While Ireland’s abortion laws were questioned by a UN human rights committee yesterday, figures released on 9th June 2015 show that 3,735 women and girls travelled from Ireland to the UK for abortion services in 2014. This highlights the State’s continued failure to uphold women’s right to health, according to Ireland's leading pregnancy counselling agency, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), which provides counselling to over 3,000 clients annually.

IFPA Chief Executive Niall Behan said: “In 2014, over 3,700 women and girls living in Ireland sought an abortion. Instead of providing necessary health services, the State turned its back on these women by obliging them to rely on the health care system of the UK. Since 1980, almost 162,000 women and girls have had to make this journey to the UK, and assume all the financial, practical and emotional burdens involved in travelling abroad for abortion services.”

Mr Behan continued: “Yesterday, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights asked several pointed questions about the effect of Ireland’s abortion laws on women’s health."

"The Committee asked the State how it could reconcile the fact that foetal right to life in the Constitution trumps women’s right to health. The Committee also questioned the State on its reliance on travel to access abortion and the “disproportionate impact” this has on women with difficulties in travelling, including women on a low income and women asylum seekers. The Committee also asked the State why it has not held a referendum to amend the Constitution.”

“The State cannot continue to abdicate its human rights responsibilities. It must now vindicate women’s right to health by reforming its abortion laws through Constitutional means."

"Until this happens, thousands more women and girls will have to travel to the UK and other countries each year for reproductive health services that should be available in Ireland.”

Notes

  • In 2014, 3,735 women and girls provided addresses from the Republic of Ireland at abortion clinics in England and Wales. This represents an increase of 56 (or 1.52%) compared with 2013.
  • This number is an underestimation as not all women provide their Irish addresses for reasons of confidentiality, while some travel to other European countries to access abortion services.
  • Women from the Republic of Ireland constituted 67.7% of abortions carried out on non-UK residents in 2014.
  • Since 1980, at least 161,987 women and girls from Ireland have travelled to the UK to access safe abortion services.
  • The full UK Department of Health 2014 statistics are available to download here.
  • The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is a body of 18 independent human rights experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) by its state parties.
  • The Committee is conducting its third periodic review of Ireland on 8th and 9th June in Geneva. The Government Delegation is led by Minister of State Sean Sherlock TD.
  • On 8th June, the IFPA delivered an oral statement to the Committee on behalf of 12 civil society organisations, highlighting the impact of Ireland’s abortion laws on women’s right to health under the ICESCR. The IFPA also provided a submission to the Committee.
  • Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws have been consistently criticised by several international human rights bodies and experts. In June 2014, the UN Human Rights Committee called on the Government to reform its abortion laws by constitutional and legislative means.