Ireland’s abortion laws subjected a woman to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, according to a landmark decision from the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This ground-breaking ruling marks the first time that, in response to an individual complaint, an international human rights court or committee has recognized that by criminalizing abortion a state has violated a woman’s human rights. A detailed overview of the Committee's decision is available in this fact sheet.
The U.N. committee ruled in favor of Amanda Mellet, who was denied access to an abortion in Ireland in 2011 after learning her pregnancy involved a fatal fetal impairment and found the prospect of continuing her pregnancy unbearable. The committee held that the Irish government must take measures to redress the harm Ms. Mellet suffered and reform its laws to ensure other women do not continue to face similar violations, as well as i instructs the government to guarantee effective, timely and accessible procedures for abortion in Ireland.
In November 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint on behalf of Amanda Mellet before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, arguing that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws violated her basic human rights by subjecting her to severe mental suffering and anguish.
In 2011, Amanda Mellet learned during the course of her pregnancy that the fetus had a fatal fetal impairment. She knew she could not continue with the pregnancy and asked her doctors for an abortion. However because Ireland outlaws abortion in almost all circumstances, she was forced to travel to the United Kingdom to end the pregnancy.
In its decision, the U.N. Human Rights Committee affirms that outlawing women’s access to abortion services can cause severe suffering and undermines their personal integrity and autonomy, which results in acute violations of their human rights.
The U.N. committee unanimously held that prohibiting Ms. Mellet from accessing abortion services in Ireland violated her right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as her right to privacy. The U.N. committee also determined that Ireland’s failure to provide services that Ms. Mellet required constituted discrimination.
Filing date: November 2013
Ireland’s abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world. Abortion is permitted only when there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman. In every other circumstance abortion is a serious crime. Since 1983, Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution has placed “the right to life of the unborn” on an equal footing with the right to life of pregnant women. Because of Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws, every year approximately 4,000 pregnant women travel to access abortion services in a foreign country.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee is an independent expert body that oversees states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is charged with a dual mandate in that regard. First, to conduct periodic reviews of state reports on implementation of the Covenant and to issue ‘concluding observations’ on those reports. Second, under the First Optional Protocol to the Covenant, it is mandated to receive individual complaints from alleged victims of violations, to adjudicate the matter and issue its views as to whether a violation occurred. Amanda Mellet’s complaint was submitted in accordance with the procedure under the First Optional Protocol.