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Irish Government 'on notice it is violating human rights of women'

Published 30/11/2015

A landmark judgment was delivered to Belfast High Court
A landmark judgment was delivered to Belfast High Court

The Irish Government has been put on notice that it is violating the human rights of women with its strict rules on abortion, campaigners have warned.

The claim comes after a High Court judge said Northern Ireland's near blanket ban on abortion breaches human rights legislation.

The landmark judgment delivered to Belfast High Court could pave the way for a relaxation of the region's strict laws which prohibit women accessing terminations in cases of rape, incest or where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

The high-profile case was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).

With a committee to advise on whether to relax the Republic's laws which give a mother and the unborn child equal rights to life, Amnesty International claimed current legislation is more restrictive and abusive than in Northern Ireland.

Colm O'Gorman, executive director of the Irish section of the human rights group, said the Belfast High Court ruling is not just something for the Stormont Executive to act on.

"The Irish Government is now on notice that it too is violating the European Convention on Human Rights," he said.

"It denies women and girls access to abortion in these cases.

"In fact, it doesn't even allow access to abortion on health grounds as required under international human rights law, so its abortion law is more restrictive and abusive."

In the Republic the mother and unborn child have equal right to life under the eighth amendment to the Constitution.

There was slight reform to Ireland's strict rules on termination of pregnancy when new laws came into force in January 2014 to allow the procedure if there is a real and substantial risk to a mother's life, including from suicide.

The regulations involve the pregnant woman being assessed by two medical professionals and to agree that a termination is the required course of action to protect the woman's life.

The Labour Party, junior partners in the coalition Government, has insisted a referendum on reforming the abortion ban would be a precondition of returning to power with Fine Gael.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has committed to establishing a constitutional convention to examine the issue - a move which will defuse a potentially divisive debate about the issue in the run-up to next year's general election.

Cora Sherlock, deputy chair of the Pro Life Campaign in Ireland, said: "There is no right to abortion in international human rights law.

"I think it's very sinister.

"What we would be expecting from the Irish Government is to stand up for every human being in Ireland, born and unborn, and reiterate there is no right to abortion."

Linda Kavanagh, spokeswoman with the Abortion Rights Campaign which seeks to liberalise abortion in Ireland by repeal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution, said: "Even the NI ruling does not go far enough.

"It might mean tens of women will access the healthcare they need but there would still be thousands of others travelling."

Niall Behan, chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), said: "The Government policy in both the North and South of Ireland of forcing women to rely on the healthcare systems of other jurisdictions to provide abortion services seriously harms women's health.

"This judgment, one of an ever-growing list, exposes these harms.

"The IFPA applauds the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission for initiating the case but regrets that women must turn to the courts to vindicate their reproductive rights."

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