The United Nations ruled this week Ireland violated a woman’s human rights by preventing her from having an abortion, and took the unprecedented step of ordering the country to change its laws and constitution to ensure women can exercise their “right” to get an abortion.
The woman filed a complaint with the UN human rights commission after Ireland’s strict abortion laws forced her to travel to the United Kingdom to abort a child with fatal defects. The UN human rights committee ruled on the complaint Thursday, finding Ireland subjected the woman to “discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” in violation of her human rights.
Abortion is illegal in Ireland, except to save the life of the mother.
The UN said Ireland is “obliged” to amend its laws and constitution such that women can get “accessible, timely and effective” abortions in the country, in accordance with the UN covenant Ireland signed, as well as to provide the woman with an “effective remedy.”
The statement marks the first time the UN has explicitly recognized access to abortion as a “human right,” and is expected to set a precedent that will encourage similar complaints from women in other countries with restrictive abortion laws.
“The decision is so significant that lawyers who are working with women who have been denied access to abortion across the world will be very encouraged and will be using it in their work to seek justice for their clients and legal change in countries where access to abortion services is criminalised,” the lawyer who filed the complaint with the UN on the woman’s behalf told The Guardian.
“Ireland is also obliged to prevent similar violations from occurring,” the committee said. “To this end, the State party should amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy, including if necessary its Constitution, to ensure compliance with the Covenant, including 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.”
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