Ireland Pressured by the HRC to Expand Access to Abortion
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ireland appeared before the Human Rights Committee (HRC) to present its fourth periodic report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and was pressured to expand access to abortion, despite silence of the treaty on the issue, and despite the fact that Ireland recently legalized abortion for life of the mother and threat of suicide exceptions. Some members of the HRC recommended that Ireland allow increased access to abortion.

The official news of the review reported that “easing restrictions for abortion” was one of the main discussion topics and stated that one unnamed committee expert asked if the Irish people had ever been given the chance to vote on reducing restrictions on abortion.  This expert relayed information claiming that recent opinion polls in Ireland showed that 70 per cent of the people supported abortion in cases of fetal anomaly, incest and rape and asserted that the HRC puts the right to life and health of the mother first. 

A committee member also wanted to know if the situation where some women travel abroad to seek abortion is not considered discrimination against those women who cannot afford to do so.

The official news also included comments by another expert who while commenting that the 2013 act to legalize abortion represented a “step forward regarding the life of the mother” this expert stated that it was “regrettable that Ireland did not show readiness to expand the list of criteria for abortion”.

In regards to Irish law on abortion, a member of the Irish delegation explained that it had “evolved over time and in the democratic process” with the attempt to “seek a careful balance between the provisions on the life of the unborn and protecting the life of the mother”. It was affirmed that “protecting life was a central tenet of Ireland’s national and international obligations” and that there had been five separate referenda on abortion.  

In response to the HRC’s questions, another Irish delegate explained that the delegation fully understood the points raised on abortion by the Committee and stated that it would require a new constitutional referendum to expand the list of grounds for abortion and that opinion polls “had varied in relation to the topic, and did reflect changing views”. 

The delegation explained that there were a number of agencies providing advice and assistance for women who experienced crisis pregnancies and that the number of teenage pregnancies and women traveling abroad for abortions had been significantly reduced. 

Of the many NGOs present for the review, one pro-life organization, Family and Life, was able to make an oral presentation.  It had also submitted a written statement in advance of the review, an effective and strategic action. All related documents can be found on the HRC website by Ireland’s flag.

Family & Life's oral intervention was made by its legal advisor Dr Thomas Finegan, who emphasized that there is no such thing as a right to abortion in international human rights law; that the unborn child is recognized as a human rights subject by various international human rights law provisions; and that UN Treaty monitoring bodies have no legal authority to issue binding interpretations.

The written statement included: “The right to life of the unborn is guaranteed by the Irish Constitution (Article 40.3.3). The provision for abortion in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is based only on the assumption that there are situations in which the right to life of the unborn may conflict directly with the equal right to life of the mother. Where the right to life of the mother is not engaged, it is clear that any assault on the right to life of the unborn would be quite unconstitutional.”

According to the official report, at the end of the review, Committee chairman, Sir Nigel Rodley (UK), stated that it was “welcome that the delegation was ready to hear out the Committee’s concerns over abortion regulations, and that the life of the woman was given priority over the unborn.” He expressed regret that the revised abortion provisions “did not extend to the health of the woman”.

Family and Life reported that the chairman described the pro-life submission as "breathtakingly arrogant", while “denying that the unborn child is an existent human being”.

Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland also attended the review and witnessed the participation of fully invested pro-abortion NGOs.  Legal advisor Lorcan Price stated:

          “There is no right to abortion in international law. Well-funded abortion industry lobby groups are seeking to mislead the United Nations Committee here in Geneva today by suggesting that the unborn child has no right to life. Such a suggestion is contrary to human rights law”

          “As a society, we cannot claim to be genuine defenders of human rights unless we also protect the right to life of unborn children. What’s at stake in this debate is whether or not we respect the inherent value of every human life. The pro-choice groups pushing hard for abortion at today’s hearings in Geneva always sidestep the issue of what rights should be afforded to unborn babies throughout the full nine months of pregnancy.”

           “I sincerely hope the UN Human Rights Committee will defend the right to life and reject the international push from US based groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights who are determined to impose an abortion regime on Ireland. The UN knows that there is no international right to abortion in law. If the UN were to adopt a position explicitly endorsing abortion, it would do incalculable damage to its credibility as a protector of genuine human rights.”

PNCI encourages pro-life organizations globally to monitor their countries reporting schedule to UN treaty monitoring bodies and submit written statements expressing their concerns.