October 28 – International Day of Action for Abortion Rights in Ireland
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) joined in solidarity with Irish women’s rights activists calling for the repeal of the Eights Amendment in the Irish Constitution by paying a visit to the Irish Honorary Consulate in Manila, Philippines.
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Subject: Repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the Irish Constitution
Greetings from the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR). WGNRR is a Southern-based global network that builds and strengthens movements advocating for the full realization of the sexual and reproductive health, rights (SRHR) and justice of all people.
As a network of more than 1000 members around the globe advocating, promoting and defending SRHR, WGNRR would like to express our deep concern regarding the prohibition of abortion in Ireland. The 28th of October marks the second anniversary of the death of Savita Halappanavar, a victim of your nation’s anti-abortion laws who developed septicemia after she was refused termination of a non-viable 17-week-old fœtus, and went through days of horrendous pain and agony. Savita died after being denied access to a safe abortion, which would have been a life-saving procedure. This tragic case demonstrates, once again, that the prohibition of abortion in Ireland is not just undermining the autonomy of women across the country; it is leading to needless and unacceptable suffering and even death.
WGNRR joins in solidarity with Irish women’s rights activists in commemoration of the tragic death of Savita and in the call for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the Irish Constitution. In equating the right to life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus, the Eighth Amendment criminalizes abortion in all cases except where there is a “real and substantial risk” to the woman’s life. However, as the tragic death of Savita demonstrates, this exception does not stop women from dying as a result of being denied access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion services. Moreover, this archaic and dangerous law infringes on the human rights of women in Ireland and goes against international human rights standards. As the nation-wide campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment points out, the law denies access to basic healthcare, forcing over 154,000 Irish women to travel overseas to obtain an abortion since 1980, and placing women’s lives at risk, as recognized by the Human Rights Committee. The law also criminalizes those who self-administer medical abortion in Ireland and maintains a false and medically dangerous distinction between a risk to health and a risk to life. It discriminates against those who cannot travel to obtain abortions and does not reflect present public opinion in Ireland.
It must be emphasized that access to safe and legal abortion is a human rights issue, where States that uphold restrictive laws criminalizing abortion commit human rights violations in two ways. Firstly, as stipulated in the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), discrimination against women definitively includes laws that have either the “effect” or “purpose” of preventing a woman from exercising any of her human rights or fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men. As such, laws that are based on gender stereotypes and assign traditional roles to women, such as those which criminalize abortion, violate women’s right to be free from gender bias and discrimination, and go against States’ commitments to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. Secondly, States that maintain restrictive laws also subject countless numbers of persons to grave human rights violations, through the existence and application of those laws. As noted by international human rights bodies such as the Committee Against Torture, forcing individuals to carry unwanted pregnancies, even in cases where it is the result of rape or is a threat to their health and life, equals the act of torture, and violates women’s right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The criminalization of abortion, moreover, pushes individuals to resort to unsafe abortion services, where individuals are forced to compromise their health and often risk their lives, thereby violating their rights to life, health, physical and psychological integrity, and bodily autonomy.
It is deeply worrying that the government of Ireland – a member state of the European Union – still does not respect, protect, and fulfill women’s rights even though the country has signed and ratified international human rights treaties, such as CEDAW, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture, as well as international agreements such as the 1994 ICPD Programme of Action, where governments affirmed reproductive rights as human rights. In solidarity with women’s rights activists in Ireland, we call on your government to take urgent and decisive steps to reform your nation’s legislation, including the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the Irish Constitution. Until the Irish legal system is reformed, the health, autonomy, and lives of women across Ireland are in jeopardy.
We believe it is high time for all women in Ireland to be able to fully exercise their basic human rights, and live a life free from all forms of violence and discrimination. We trust that you will take all measures necessary to ensure the rights of women in Ireland to access safe and legal abortion, and ensure that Irish laws and practices conform with the international treaties and human rights standards to which Ireland has committed.