Human rights experts at the United Nations say Ireland's restrictive rules on abortion subjected a woman to "discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
In a decision hailed as landmark and released on Thursday, the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that a woman who was forced to choose between carrying her fetus, while knowing it would not survive, or seeking an abortion abroad should be compensated and receive necessary psychological treatment.
Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. The state had imposed a ban on terminating a pregnancy up until 2013, when large protests on the streets led to a slight modification. It is now legal for a woman to obtain an abortion when her life is in danger.
This latest case revolves around a complaint by a woman, identified in the media as Amanda Mellet, who was told in November 2011, when she was in her 21st week of pregnancy, that her fetus had congenital defects, meaning it would die in the womb or shortly after birth.
This meant she had to choose "between continuing her non-viable pregnancy or travelling 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," the Committee said in a statement issued on Thursday.
Mellet traveled to the UK for an abortion and returned 12 hours later because she couldn't afford to stay. The hospital that administered the abortion did not provide any options for the fetus's remains and she had to leave them behind. Then, unexpectedly, the ashes were delivered to her three weeks later by mail.
The Committee went on to note that the woman was denied bereavement counselling and medical care available to women who miscarry — something that it concluded amounted to discrimination.
"Many of the negative experiences she went through could have been avoided if (she) had not been prohibited from terminating her pregnancy in the familiar environment of her own country and under the care of health professionals whom she knew and trusted," the Committee wrote. It also issued a directive to Ireland, calling on it to amend its abortion laws, in order to ensure "effective, timely and accessible procedures for pregnancy termination in Ireland, and take measures to ensure that health-care providers are in a position to supply full information on safe abortion services without fearing being subjected to criminal sanctions."
Ireland has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Committee says obliges it to change how it restricts abortion and supports women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.
In a statement, Amnesty International Ireland's head, Colm O'Gorman, told Reuters: "The Irish government must take its head out of the sand and see that it has to tackle this issue."
The US-based Centre for Reproductive Rights also weighed in, welcoming the "ground-breaking ruling" as sending "the clear message that Ireland's abortion laws are cruel and inhumane, and violate women's human rights"
The abortion issue is hugely divisive in Ireland and the new minority government resisted calls to directly loosen the laws, instead leaving it to a citizens' assembly which will be established by year-end to recommend any changes to the law.
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