Women campaigning in the street with a sign reading 'not a vessel'

Ireland’s abortion law treats women like vessels

Pregnant women and girls risk putting their health and lives in danger if they remain in Ireland, Amnesty International said in a report on the country’s abortion law issued on 9 June 2015.

The report She is not a criminal: The Impact of Ireland’s abortion law documents shocking cases of Irish authorities denying women and girls necessary healthcare in order to prioritize the life of the foetus – which is protected by an amendment to Ireland’s constitution added in 1983.

Only allowing abortion if the woman’s life is at risk, Ireland’s abortion law is one of the most restrictive in the world, forcing at least 4,000 women and girls to travel outside the country for an abortion every year at considerable mental, financial and physical cost. Women and girls who cannot travel are left without access to necessary health treatment, or risk criminal penalties if they undergo illegal abortions at home.

The recent Marriage Equality referendum showed a country that prides itself on being an open and inclusive society, but all is not well in the Republic of Ireland.

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty

“The recent Marriage Equality referendum showed a country that prides itself on being an open and inclusive society, but all is not well in the Republic of Ireland. The human rights of women and girls are violated on a daily basis because of a constitution that treats them like child-bearing vessels,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty.

“Women and girls who need abortions are treated like criminals, stigmatized and forced to travel abroad, taking a serious toll on their mental and physical health. The Irish state can no longer ignore this reality, and the appalling impact it is having on thousands of people every year.”

‘Fear for my life’

The report presents testimony from women who have undergone abortions abroad, some of whom suffered miscarriages but were forced to carry a dead or unviable foetus inside them for weeks in the futile hope they could get the health care they need in Ireland.

Róisín was forced to carry a dead foetus for weeks because doctors wanted to be absolutely sure there was no foetal heartbeat. She told Amnesty International:

“I wouldn’t be inclined to trust services for women in this country at the moment.”

Lupe, who was carrying a foetus with no heartbeat for 14 weeks, told Amnesty International she had to travel to her home country of Spain for proper medical treatment:

“I didn’t feel safe at all…I was feeling really scared because it became clear to me, that if any complication was raised, these people would let me die.”

It is not just women seeking abortions who are denied access to healthcare by the focus on the foetus. Health staff refused Rebecca H., who was gravely ill, a C-section for fear that it would harm her foetus. Instead, they forced her to endure 36 hours of labour saying their job was “to look after the baby, the baby comes first”. She told Amnesty International:

“I would fear for my life to have another child in Ireland.”

Dr. Peter Boylan, an obstetrician, gynaecologist and former Master and Clinical Director of Ireland’s National Maternity Hospital told Amnesty International about the legal and ethical tightrope medical staff are forced to walk:

“Under the [current law] we must wait until women become sick enough before we can intervene. How close to death do you have to be? There is no answer to that.”

One of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world

Ireland is the only country in Europe – apart from Andorra, Malta and San Marino – that bans women from getting abortions even in cases of rape, severe or fatal foetal impairment or a risk to their health, which is their human right under international law. Amnesty International today launched a campaign calling on Ireland to change its law so that women and girls can have abortions in those cases, at the very least.

Irish law even makes it a crime for doctors and counsellors to give women complete information on what treatment they need and how to get an abortion safely. Doctors and counsellors spoke to Amnesty International of their frustration at Ireland’s Regulation of Information Act, which rights group want Ireland to repeal.

Ireland’s draconian laws have created a climate of fear where counsellors can be fined for telling women how to seek medical care, and as a result some women are avoiding doctors altogether.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland

“Ireland’s draconian laws have created a climate of fear where counsellors can be fined for telling women how to seek medical care, and as a result some women are avoiding doctors altogether,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“Ireland turns a blind eye when women travel abroad for abortions, and is indifferent to the suffering involved. It condemns the weak, poor and vulnerable who cannot travel to become criminals for making decisions about their bodies, decisions which sometimes are a matter of life and death.

“Ireland must amend the constitution and remove the protection of the foetus. This needs to happen urgently as Ireland’s current laws are putting the lives of women and girls at risk every day.”

My body My Rights

Amnesty International today launched its My Body My Rights campaign in Ireland. The campaign against government efforts to control and criminalize women will see a global movement of seven million people campaign on a human rights issue in the Republic of Ireland for the first time, with petitions, demonstrations and letters targeting Irish leaders.

The previous report in the campaign documents the impact of El Salvador’s abortion law, which criminalizes abortion in all circumstances. The two reports show how women can be pushed to the brink of death because of the restrictive laws.

Read more

#NotaCriminal: Women and girls talk about their experience of Ireland’s restrictive abortion law.

Blog: 6 outrageous facts about abortion in Ireland.

Facts & Figures about abortion in Ireland

177,000 – the number of women and girls who have travelled from Ireland to England and Wales for an abortion since 1971. In 2013, at least 3,679 women and girls travelled from Ireland to other countries for an abortion.
€4,000 – the potential fine medical staff could pay for referring a woman for an abortion, or giving comprehensive information about the procedure.

€1,000-1,500 – the estimated average financial cost of travelling abroad for an abortion.
43 – the number of European countries that allow abortion on request or on very broad social and economic grounds, all but five (Ireland, Andorra, Malta, Poland and San Marino).

24 – the number of days healthcare providers kept a clinically-dead pregnant woman on life support, against her family’s wishes, because the foetus had a heart beat in December 2014.

14 years – the prison sentence that you are threatened with if you have an illegal abortion in Ireland, or assist anyone in having one.