Oireachtas must now legislate to vindicate the human rights of women and girls in accessing healthcare

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) today welcomes the decision by the Irish people to remove Article 40.3.3 from the Constitution.

In line with its statutory mandate to “keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights and equality”, the Commission has previously called for the removal of Article 40.3.3 to enable the establishment of a legal and regulatory framework for access to abortion services in Ireland.

It is the view of the Commission that such a framework would primarily be a matter of healthcare policy, in line with Ireland’s international obligation under international human rights law to vindicate the right of both men and women to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The Commission set out its formal policy position to the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution in October 2017.  That position, which can be accessed here, set out the human rights and equality principles which it believes should inform the legal and regulatory framework which may be enacted in the event of a repeal of that amendment.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, stated:

Today’s emphatic vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment paves the way for the development of a new legislative and regulatory framework for access to abortion services in Ireland.  Ireland has an obligation, under international human rights law, to vindicate the human rights of women and girls in accessing healthcare that is safe, appropriate and respects their right to privacy.  The Oireachtas now has an obligation to legislate to make those rights a reality.

ENDS/

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095

bdawson@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note  

In October 2017, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission published its position on  the ‘Human Rights and Equality Considerations in the Development of a new Legislative and Regulatory Framework on Abortion’.  The Commission recommended the holding of a referendum to delete Article 40.3.3 from the Constitution, and made the following recommendations for the legislative and regulatory regime which may follow.  These recommendations are summarised here:

  • The State should approach legislation for and regulation of access to abortion services in Ireland primarily as a matter of healthcare policy, in line with its obligation under international human rights law to vindicate the right of both men and women to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
  • Notwithstanding limitations that may be placed on access to abortion by legislation and regulation, the State decriminalise abortion in all circumstances.
  • A revised legal framework for access to abortion services in Ireland should fully comply with Ireland’s obligations under Articles 7 (prohibition on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment), 17 (right to privacy) and 26 (equality before the law) ICCPR, as elaborated in the Mellet and Whelan decisions.
  • A new framework for access to abortion services in Ireland should ensure that the State meets its international human rights obligations to children and adolescents. It should ensure that the framework is implemented in an age-appropriate manner, in a way that meets the particular health needs of girls and adolescents, and that gives due weight to their views, in keeping with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • A reformed framework for access to abortion services in Ireland should encompass circumstances that reflect the wider reproductive health needs of women in Ireland. These should include access to abortion services for reasons of:
    • Risk to life, health or wellbeing
    • Socio-economic or family circumstances
    • Pregnancy due to rape or incest
    • Fatal foetal abnormality
  • These circumstances are incorporated into a framework for access to abortion services in Ireland that places the decision-making process primarily in the hands of the pregnant women in consultation with her physician, and that avoids where possible onerous grounds-based certification procedures.
  • Any gestational term limits included in a reformed framework for access to abortion services in Ireland should be:
    • Devised in keeping with best medical practice, and with the health of the pregnant woman as the primary focus
    • Necessary, proportionate, and should have due regard to a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, and her right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
    • Subject to regular review and assessment
  • A reformed framework for access to abortion services in Ireland should put appropriate provisions in place to safeguard the right of medical practitioners to conscientious objection where there is no immediate danger to patient’s life or health. These provisions should:
    • Ensure that, notwithstanding the conscientious objection, women have safe and timely access to the care that they require
    • Require medical institutions to ensure that they have the means to accommodate conscientious objection in a way that does not adversely affect women’s access to services
    • Establish in law that where a person claiming to have a conscientious objection and refusing to carry out or assist in carrying out a lawful procedure knowingly contributes to the death of or significant harm to the woman, that person and/or the institution shall be guilty of a specified offence
  • In devising a revised framework for access to abortion services in Ireland, the State must have regard to its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in particular Articles 12, 23 and 25, ensuring that, as with all areas of health care provision, CRPD-compliant procedures for assisted decision-making are applied.
  • In parallel to a reformed framework for access to abortion services in Ireland, the State should develop a comprehensive, scientifically objective, sexual and reproductive health education policy to inform children, adolescents and adults in an age-appropriate manner about contraception, responsible sexual behaviour, family planning, and the availability of reproductive health services.
  • Services available under the new framework should be incorporated into the existing public health and social welfare system, and made available to all, according to need, and without discrimination.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

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