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Ireland’s abortion ban subjected woman to cruel and inhuman treatment says UN

Ireland’s abortion ban subjected woman to cruel and inhuman treatment says UN

Ireland's ban on abortion subjected a woman carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the United Nations has found.

And it called for the strict prohibition to be reversed, including reforming the right to life of the unborn in the Constitution if necessary, to allow women to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy safely.

The independent experts, from the Geneva-based Human Rights Committee, said Amanda Mellet was forced to choose between carrying her baby to term, knowing it would not survive, or travelling abroad for a termination.

The UN body also hit out at the Government for putting her through financial and emotional suffering.

Its report said she had to pick "between continuing her non-viable pregnancy or travelling to another country while carrying a dying foetus, at personal expense and separated from the support of her family, and to return while not fully recovered".

The UN has ordered the Government to compensate Ms Mellet and ensure she gets the adequate psychological treatment she may need and to prevent similar violations from occurring.

Ms Mellet was 21 weeks pregnant in November 2011 when medics told her the foetus would die in her womb or shortly after birth.

She travelled to the UK for an abortion but had to return home 12 hours after the procedure as she could not afford to stay longer.

The UN committee said the hospital where she was treated did not provide any options regarding the foetus's remains and she had to leave them behind.

Three weeks later the ashes were unexpectedly delivered to her by courier.

Ms Mellet filed a complaint with the UN over her experiences.

The human rights organisation said she was discriminated against by being denied bereavement counselling and medical care available to women who miscarry.

It said this did not take into account her medical needs and socio-economic circumstances.

"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 said.

The UN also noted the shame and stigma associated with the criminalisation of abortion of a fatally-ill foetus.

It said Ms Mellet's suffering was aggravated by the obstacles she faced in getting information about the appropriate medical options.

The UN said the strict rules that support groups in Ireland can provide on information have a chilling effect on healthcare workers.

It said some struggle to distinguish between support for a woman who has decided to terminate a pregnancy and promoting abortion.

In its findings the UN said: "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 healthcare providers are in a position to supply full information on safe abortion services without fearing being subjected to criminal sanctions."

Ireland's stringent rules on abortion are protected under the eighth amendment to the Constitution which deals with the right to life of the unborn.

Last year new rules came into effect under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 to allow for abortion when there is a real and substantial risk to a woman's life - including the threat of suicide.

But the ban remains on termination in cases of rape, incest, inevitable miscarriage and fatal foetal abnormality.

Campaigners for a more liberal abortion regime said the ruling is the first time an individual complaint has been supported and led to a finding that the current ban is a human rights violation.

Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights which filed the complaint for Ms Mellet, said a woman's health and well-being is put in jeopardy if she is denied the right to make decisions.

"The Irish Government must now comply with this ruling, redress the harm Ms Mellet suffered and reform its laws to ensure other women do not continue to face similar violations," she said.

Gerry Edwards, of Termination for Medical Reasons, said: "We are very proud of Amanda, who has shown incredible bravery and selflessness in going public and taking her case to the UN Human Rights Committee to hold Ireland accountable for its punitive laws and ensure that women are no longer denied the ability to end their pregnancies in Ireland."

Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: "The Irish Government must act promptly. Ireland's Constitution is no excuse - it must be changed to allow the reforms required by this ruling."

IFPA counselling director Evelyn Geraghty said the ban seriously harms women's health.

"The UN's ruling recognises this and echoes what the IFPA hears every day: obliging women and girls to leave the state and travel abroad for abortion services is cruel, inhuman and degrading," she said.

Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland, said: "Women must be trusted to make the best choices in their pregnancies and we must respect their decisions, including the decision to end a pregnancy."