Provides Clarity, but Leaves Broad Criminal Ban Intact
July 12, 2013
The new law does add clarity, but requiring women to seek multiple approvals from health professionals may delay or defeat access to legal abortions. Ultimately it does little to improve the draconian restrictions on abortions.
Gauri van Gulik, women’s rights advocate

(London) – The Irish Parliament on July 12, 2013, passed a law, the first of its kind in the country, regulating access to abortion in circumstances in which it is necessary to save the life of the woman.

However, although the law clarifies how a pregnant woman whose life is at risk can exercise her constitutional right to an abortion, it does not otherwise reform access to abortion in Ireland. The law requires the certification by two doctors that there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant woman before an abortion can proceed. It also allows for an abortion if one obstetrician and two psychiatrists unanimously agree that the pregnant woman is likely to commit suicide.

The government proposed the new legislation after the European Court of Human Rights found in the 2010 case ABC v. Ireland that Ireland’s failure to regulate access to abortion had led to a violation of its human rights obligations.

The new law does the bare minimum to comply with the European court ruling. It neither reforms nor adds grounds for legal abortion, nor does it address other rights issues women in need of abortion in Ireland face. The new law leaves intact the broad criminal ban on abortion. A woman pregnant as a result of rape, for example, or whose pregnancy is not viable, still can’t get a legal abortion in Ireland, Human Rights Watch said.

In January, Human Rights Watch issued a human rights analysis of the status quo and the human rights at risk due to penalization of abortion. Human rights law requires that procedures for determining access to legal abortion do not create arbitrary barriers that place unnecessary burdens on any woman or girl in a crisis pregnancy where her life may be in danger.

“The new law does add clarity, but requiring women to seek multiple approvals from health professionals may delay or defeat access to legal abortions,” said Gauri van Gulik, women’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. “Ultimately it does little to improve the draconian restrictions on abortions.”