In Ireland, a woman can face up to 14 years in prison for receiving an abortion except in cases where her own life is threatened by complications. This law was established in 1986 by an amendment to the Irish Constitution. In recent years it was received widespread criticism, both in Ireland and among the international community. A poll conducted in January, 2016 found that 78 percent of people in Ireland are in favor of changing the country’s abortion legislation.
Along with a handful of other countries like Lichtenstein, Malta and Poland, Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.
Now, after reviewing a case in which an Irish woman was forced to travel to Britain to end a pregnancy while carrying a terminally-ill fetus, the United Nations has ruled that the law represents a violation of human rights.
In their ruling released on June 9, The UN Human Rights Committee declared that the woman “was subject to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as a result of Ireland’s legal prohibition of abortion.” They further recommended Ireland “amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy,” and amend its Constitution if necessary.
In the words of the Committee, the woman was effectively forced to choose “between continuing her non-viable pregnancy or traveling to another country while carrying a dying fetus, at personal expense and separated from the support of her family, and to return while not fully recovered.”
Reproductive rights advocates in Ireland are hopeful that the UN ruling will put additional pressure on the Irish Government to repeal the long-standing ban on abortion.
Soon after it was released, Ireland’s Health Minister described the ruling as “deeply unsettling,” but maintained that the Government would not conduct a referendum until a citizens’ assembly is established to further examine the issue.