A United Nations human rights committee has ruled that Ireland’s restrictions on abortions violated a woman’s rights by subjecting her to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” when she had to choose between giving birth to a child she knew would not survive, or seeking an abortion abroad.
The Thursday ruling calls on the country to compensate the woman and amend its law on abortion, by providing “timely and accessible procedures for pregnancy termination” to prevent similar violations from happening in the future.
In 2011, Amanda Mellet was told by doctors that her child would die in the womb or shortly after birth. Unable to terminate the pregnancy in Ireland, Mellet chose to travel to the U.K. for an abortion. She had to return 12 hours after the procedure because she could not afford to stay longer and was unexpectedly sent the cremated remains of the foetus a couple of weeks later, according to a UN press release.
The Committee says this forced her choose “between continuing her non-viable pregnancy or travelling to another country while carrying a dying foetus, at personal expense, and separated from the support of her family, and to return while not fully recovered.” As Ireland is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Committee says it is obliged to compensate Mellet and provide any psychological treatment she may need.
“Since 2014 alone, four international human rights bodies have instructed Ireland to reform its law to allow for increased access to abortion services” wrote Linda Kavanagh, the spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Campaign based in Ireland, in an email. “Today’s findings by the UN Human Rights Committee adds further weight to those recommendations while also highlighting the very real and painful consequences [Irish law] has for women, their families and their health care providers.”
Anti-abortion group Youth Defence criticized the “deplorable” ruling that they say interferes with the country’s laws. “The UN should be protecting these sick babies…instead they are attacking Ireland’s proud pro-life tradition of caring for mothers and babies and trying to bully a sovereign nation into legalising the cruel and barbaric practice of abortion,” spokeswoman Rebecca Roughneen told TIME in an email.
The 8th amendment to the Irish constitution, introduced in 1983, recognizes the right of an unborn child. Abortion is only permitted in Ireland when there is a risk to life of the mother, but is criminalized in any other circumstance. In 2013, Mellet formally asked the UN to denounce the prohibition on abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.