N. Ireland’s ‘draconian’ abortions laws ‘harshest in Europe’ – Amnesty

Reuters / Michaela Rehle
Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are the harshest in Europe and “urgently” need reform, Amnesty International said Friday. Women seeking an illegal abortion face life in prison, even if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

A report by Amnesty published Friday called the laws a “significant” breach of the UK’s international human rights obligations. Due to restrictive laws and harsh punishments, medical professionals are fearful of providing legal abortions, the charity claims.

Abortions are currently only permitted if the pregnancy constitutes a grave health risk to the mother.

Women also face a “postcode lottery,” as many in western and rural areas are unable to obtain termination treatment.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaigner, called for political change.

Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion law is the harshest in Europe,” she said. “That grim distinction should be a wake-up call to politicians. The shameful lack of political action on this key issue has helped to create a climate of fear for medical professionals.”

She said women who are forced to go abroad for treatment faced further “trauma” due to the government’s failings.

Northern Ireland’s politicians have shirked their responsibilities to women’s health for too long. The Department of Health needs to fulfill its duties to women and girls in Northern Ireland by publishing proper guidance for its frontline staff, while the Assembly must act without further delay to reform abortion law.”

READ MORE: Gender-selective abortion could become criminal offence

Dawn Purvis, program director for Marie Stopes Northern Ireland, a group that provides sexual health care and advice, called the current laws “degrading and inhumane.” Until women are given the freedom to choose, they will remain “second-class citizens,” she said.

Amnesty’s report comes as Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission won its battle for a judicial review on current abortion laws earlier in February.

A High Court judge in Belfast ruled the commission had established a case worthy of a three day hearing, which will take place in June.

The commission had described the legal action a last resort.

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman, including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health, which is either long-term or permanent,” a spokesperson for the commission said.

“The recent consultation published by the DoJ [Department of Justice] does not commit to making the changes that are necessary to comply with human rights law.”

“Given the vulnerability of women and girls in these situations, the commission considers it appropriate to use its powers and bring this legal challenge in its own name,” the spokesperson said.