Between the 24th of July until the 11th of August the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is taking place in Geneva.
In Geneva on Friday, United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) again emphasised the incompatibility of Ireland’s abortion ban with international human rights law and questioned the government’s support to repeal the 8th Amendment, expressing concern at the lack of progress taken since Ireland’s last examination under the Committee in 2011.
Other topics to be discussed during the Convention include Ireland’s prison system, domestic violence, improvements in international protection processes, ‘social legacy issues’ such as the Magdelene Laundries, the Residential Redress Scheme, and Mother and Baby homes.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality David Stanton TD is the head of the Irish delegation that has travelled to Geneva for Ireland’s second examination under Article 19 of the UNCAT Convention.
Donegal Abortion Rights Campaign have welcomed the recommendations of UNCAT.
Speaking to Donegal Woman, a spokesperson for the group says; “We are aware of women leaving Donegal every week to access reproductive health care in the U.K and elsewhere.
“That Ireland has repeatedly been questioned by the UN special rapporteur on torture speaks volumes about the government’s lack of action in issues that affect women.
“It is shameful that women are still being forced to travel abroad to access healthcare.”
A report issued by the UK Department of Health earlier this year revealed that 63 Donegal women travelled abroad to terminate a pregnancy.
Of the 3,265 Irish women who travelled last year, 520 women chose not to disclose an address whereas 724 women provided a Northern Irish address.
Women aged between 20-24 were the most likely to travel abroad, while 10 of the women were under the age of 16.
“Cruel and inhuman treatment”
Abortion Rights Campaign spokesperson Michali Hyams reiterated Donegal ARC’s concerns.
Hyams said, “In what is becoming a familiar scene, the Irish state must once again answer to a UN committee as to why there has been no progress in ensuring the human rights of women and girls in Ireland are vindicated.
“The Committee was troubled by the fact that the there has been no change in law in response to the cases of Amanda Mellet or Siobhan Whelan.
“In both of these cases, women were forced to travel to access abortions and the State was found to have inflicted cruel and inhuman treatment, in violation of UNCAT.
“In light of this, the Committee were eager to know whether the government was urging the Oireachtas to call for a referendum, and whether the government would be encouraging the Irish public to vote in favour of repeal.
“The State today claimed that they had already begun to address these failings through the Citizens Assembly process and the subsequent formation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee (JOC).
“However, it is clear from the Committee’s comments that the JOC recommendation is not enough. In order for the government to discharge its obligations under UNCAT, they must ensure the wording of any referendum allows for a full repeal and facilitates the Oireachtas to legislate for real and realistic access to abortion, in line with international human rights law”.
“Simply put, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure a referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment passes, and that Ireland’s laws are brought into line with the rest of Europe. We can no longer allow barriers to access to remain in our constitution,” Ms Hyams concluded.
‘A prior issue’
In a report, the The Committee against Torture outlined abortion as one of the issues prior to the submission of the second periodic report of Ireland.
The list of issues was transmitted to the State prior to the submission of its periodic report, which will include the replies of the Government.
Concerning abortion, they asked for information on the following:
- Measures that may be in place to resolve “the uncertainty for women and their medical doctors regarding domestic procedures and the risk of criminal investigation or punishment, specifically with regard to clarifying the scope of legal abortion through statutory law, including in cases of rape.”
- Whether current legislation upholds a woman’s rights “to freedom from discrimination and prevents other breaches of the Convention.”
- “Whether adequate guidelines exist in the State party for medical and other professionals on the criteria to be met for legal termination of pregnancies, whether adequate procedures exist to challenge differing medical opinions and whether adequate services for carrying out abortions exist in the State party.”
- Possible future amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.
- “Measures taken to protect reproductive health providers from harassment, intimidation and smear campaigns on the results of the investigation by the Health Service Executive into accusations made against a number of reproductive health providers and whether certain provisions of the Access to Information Act (1995) have been reviewed to remove obstacles faced by reproductive health providers.”
A “highly politicised and divisive issue”
Addressing the UN Expert Committee on Friday, Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality David Stanton TD said that abortion is a “highly politicised and divisive issue in Ireland” and outlined that it has been the subject to referenda and Supreme Court decisions.
He says that the termination of pregnancy, which is regulated by constitutional and statute law, has been subject to both UN commentaries and “extensive parliamentary scrutiny.”
He added that the Citizens’ Assembly, chaired by Judge Mary Laffoy, a Justice of the Supreme Court, was established in order to find a “resolution suitable for such a complex and deeply personal issue.”
Between October 2016 and April 2017 ninety nine members of the public attended monthly seminars.
“It gathered facts in relation to the issue, listened to experts in the medical, legal, and ethical field and to advocates’ views on the topic. The Assembly’s recommendations will be considered by a Special Oireachtas Committee, which will be asked to report to the Oireachtas within three months of its first public meeting.”
The final report of the Citizens’ Assembly, released in June, outlines the following recommendations:
- That Article 40.3.3° should not be retained in full. (87%)
- That Article 40.3.3° should be replaced or amended. (56%)
- That Article 40.3.3° should be replaced with a constitutional provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and any rights of the pregnant woman. (57%)
In June, Taoiseach Varadkar vowed to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment next year, appointing Health Minister Simon Harris with the task of putting forth legislation to allow for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.