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UN Human Rights Committee once again targets Ireland’s abortion law

By Sarah Mac Donald - 14 June, 2017

The Pro Life Campaign (PLC) has criticised the UN Human Rights Committee’s finding that Ireland violated the human rights of a woman who travelled to Britain in 2010 for an abortion after her baby was diagnosed with a malformation which was deemed incompatible with life.

In a statement on Tuesday the PLC said comments made by the UN Human Rights Committee on Ireland’s abortion law showed that “fairness and impartiality doesn’t even enter the equation when it comes to their deliberations on this issue.”

The UN Committee described Ireland’s abortion laws as “cruel, inhumane and degrading” for not allowing abortion in situations where the unborn baby has a life-limiting condition or fatal foetal abnormality.

The remarks were made in relation to the case of Siobhan Whelan, who sought an abortion following an ultrasound scan at Wexford General Hospital at 20 weeks’ gestation which showed that her baby had a congenital brain malformation and would probably die before or very soon after birth.

Tests at the National Maternity Hospital followed and Ms Whelan was told her baby suffered from Trisomy 13 (Patau Syndrome), which is incompatible with life.

In January 2010 Ms Whelan and her husband travelled to Liverpool to end the pregnancy, and three weeks later their baby was cremated and the baby’s ashes returned to her by courier.

The UN Human Rights Committee found that by preventing Ms Whelan from ending her pregnancy in Ireland, the State had caused her mental anguish and its law “constituted an intrusive interference in her decision as to how best to cope with her pregnancy”.

The Committee ordered Ireland to compensate Ms Whelan and provide her with psychological treatment.

It also warned Ireland that it is obligated to take steps to prevent similar violations occurring in the future by amending its law on voluntary terminations.

Last year the UN Human Rights Committee criticised Irish legislation on abortion in its ruling in the case of Amanda Mellet.

Responding to the Committee’s criticisms and the call for abortion to be introduced, Cora Sherlock of the PLC said the Committee “is behaving like the international wing of the Irish abortion lobby.”

She said that “They have taken to attacking Ireland’s pro-life laws every few months but have never, for example, expressed a single word of concern or criticism at the barbaric abortion practices in countries like England and Canada where the ghastly and gruesome practice of denying medical attention to babies born alive after botched abortions is tolerated and routinely happens. Any committee that turns a blind eye to such horrific abuses is in no position to lecture Ireland on its laws.”

She warned that the Committee was “effectively saying that unborn babies with a life limiting condition are worthless and undeserving of any protections in law.

“I sympathise greatly with the woman at the centre of today’s case and all families who receive a diagnosis that their child has a life-limiting condition. The UN, however, has no right in the name of human rights to make a value judgement on which lives are valuable and which ones are not. Either we protect every human life or we end up protecting none,” Cora Sherlock said.

The PLC spokeswoman stressed that the UN remarks are not a court ruling. “We like to think of the UN as an honest defender of human rights. [It] is trading on this good name to confer undeserved legitimacy on their own ideological demands.”

She said that “Ireland is perfectly entitled to determine its own laws in this area and it is outrageous for the Committee to interfere in Irish democracy by ordering us to introduce a procedure which ends human life.”

Separately, the number of women living in Ireland who travelled to England and Wales for abortions has decreased for the fifteenth consecutive year according to official statistics released by the British Department of Health on Tuesday.

In 2016, 3,265 women travelled from Ireland to England to have an abortion, down from 3,451 in 2015 and 3,735 in 2014.

This represents a continual decline in the numbers since 2001 when the number of Irish abortions was at 6,673.

Welcoming the reduction in the number of abortions, Cora Sherlock said, “I find it puzzling, however, that some pro-choice advocates instead of welcoming the decline are using it as another opportunity to push for access to wide-ranging abortion in Ireland.”

She said everyone should be welcoming the fall in the numbers and working to reduce them still further. “Repeal of the 8th Amendment and creating wider access to abortion would have the opposite effect and see the numbers of abortions rise again.”

While Ms Sherlock acknowledged that the availability of the abortion pill online is a factor in the fall in the numbers of women travelling, she suggested that it was being “grossly exaggerated” as a reason by pro-choice campaigners.

“The facts are the fall in the number of abortions has been happening for fifteen years now, a period of time much longer than abortion pills have been readily available online.

“No one can state with certainly the reasons for the decline. But the reasons are certainly more complex than pro-choice campaigners suggest. Something I have noticed on social media is the number of women expressing abortion regret in online discussion. It doesn’t receive much attention in the mainstream media and abortion advocates zealously dismiss it. Nonetheless, it is an issue that deserves more attention if we are to sincerely try to understand the different ways this issue impacts on the lives of people.”

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