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Amnesty urges Ireland to end abortion ban

June 9, 2015

Ireland's "draconian" abortion laws endanger lives of women trying to end pregnancy, Amnesty International said while presenting a new report. The watchdog has launched a campaign to get Dublin to change its regulations.

Protest pro Abtreibung in Dublin
Image: picture alliance/CITYPRESS 24/A. Widak

Amnesty's 113-page document included case studies of women who risked blood poisoning from dead fetuses, as doctors refused to quickly remove them for fear of breaking the rules. Other women shunned medical care after terminating their pregnancies, Tuesday's report said, for fear of being criminalized.

"Ireland's draconian laws have created a climate of fear where counselors can be fined for telling women how to seek medical care, and as a result some women are avoiding doctors altogether," said Colm O'Gorman, Amnesty's executive director for Ireland, adding that the current laws are "putting the lives of women and girls at risk every day."

Right to life

Dublin should repeal its constitutional amendment which states that the unborn fetus has equal right to life as the pregnant woman, the watchdog said in the report, arguing this 1983 clause was clashing with international conventions that "human rights apply after birth."

"The human rights of women and girls are violated on a daily basis because of a constitution that treats them like child-bearing vessels," said the group's secretary general, Salil Shetty, adding that Ireland is the only country in the developed world with such regulations.

Also on Tuesday, Amnesty started a campaign - "My Body, My Rights" - which aims to "stop the control and criminalization of sexuality and reproduction" in Ireland.

From doctor to murderer

The government eased the abortion ban in 2013, following public outrage over death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, who died from blood poisoning when doctors refused to remove her dying fetus.

Abortion is currently allowed if the mother's life is at risk, but still forbidden if pregnancy is only threatening her health. The ban also applies in pregnancies caused by rape and incest, or when fetuses have severe abnormalities.

Amnesty is calling on Ireland to change the law so that women and girls can have abortions in those cases "at the very least".

The watchdog also said the new law still left doctors unsure when they could perform an abortion without risk of being charged with murder.

No referendum before 2016

At the same time, anti-abortion activists accuse the watchdog of being biased and "obsessed" with Irish abortion laws.

"Amnesty write glib reports calling for abortion to be made legal but they ignore the reality of what abortion does to an unborn child," Niamh Ui Bhriain of the Life Institute said.

A spokesman for Ireland's Department of Health told AFP it was aware of the Amnesty report "and will consider its findings".

Previously, the government has said it would need to hold a referendum to change the law further, and ruled out holding one before elections in early 2016.

dj/msh (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)