In December 2013, the IFPA held a legal seminar entitled 'Human Rights and Abortion Law Reform in Ireland' in Dublin. Barrister and former IFPA Chairperson Catherine Forde presided over a panel of national and international experts that included:
Dr Ruth Fletcher, Queen Mary University of London
Professor Rebecca Cook, University of Toronto
Julie Kay, Lead Counsel in A, B and C v Ireland
Professor Siobhán Mullally, University College Cork
Mark Kelly, Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
The panel analysed abortion law in Ireland through the lens of equality, criminalisation, human rights and stigma, and explored ways forward to advance Irish abortion law reform.
Watch highlights from the seminar below.
Julie Kay (pictured above) placed the importance of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in A, B and C v Ireland in an Irish and global context and spoke of how abortion rights are central to “gender equality and to women's ability to participate in society to control their lives, their dignity, their health”.
Professor Siobhán Mullally pointed to the jurisprudence and concluding observations of United Nations (UN) Human Rights treaty bodies, where we are “increasingly seeing recognition that [the right to abortion] is an issue of equality and of gender equality.”
In discussing other relevant international jurisprudence, Mark Kelly spoke of how the UN Committee Against Torture and Human Rights Committee have highlighted Ireland’s restrictive abortion law in advance of their upcoming reviews of the Irish State’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Professor Rebecca Cook described criminal law on abortion as “a wrong in and of itself, not only because of the public health consequences, because of how it destroys women and the meaning of women in society“. Dr Ruth Fletcher spoke of how criminalising abortion is “a form of privatising public responsibility” as “it asks women rather than the state to bear all the weight of the public duty to vindicate foetal life”.
Dr Fletcher also described how in Ireland “the life of the unborn has been treated as if it is the same as the life of the pregnant woman”. She stated that “equality does not equal sameness” and the law needs to reflect that “women are conscious sentient beings with moral views and responsibilities, while foetuses are not.”
The effect of stigma on women who seek abortion services was analysed in-depth by Professor Rebecca Cook, who stated: “Stigma is inherently wrong. It degrades, it's cruel and it's a form of social control.”