Center for Reproductive Rights Brings Second Case Against Ireland Abortion Laws to United Nations

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(PRESS RELEASE) Today the Center for Reproductive Rights filed its second challenge to Ireland’s abortion laws before the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The Center filed this case on behalf of Siobhán Whelan, who was forced by Ireland’s harsh restrictions on abortion to travel to the United Kingdom to obtain safe and legal abortion services after she learned that she was carrying a fetus with a fatal anomaly.

The Center filed today’s petition before the United Nations Human Rights Committee to hold Ireland accountable for violating Siobhán’s basic human rights by subjecting her to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, interfering with her privacy, and discriminating against her on the basis of her gender.

Said Johanna Westeson, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Rather than ensuring women with nonviable pregnancies have all the information and services they need to make their own personal decisions about their reproductive health, the Irish health system cruelly denies them both critical reproductive health information and safe and legal options to end pregnancy.

“Ireland’s harsh policies made Siobhán fearful to even ask about her options and allowed her health care providers to simply give up on her once she made the decision to end her pregnancy.

“The United Nations Human Rights Committee should act swiftly and call on Ireland to expand women’s access to essential abortion care as mandated under human rights law.”

Siobhán Whelan became pregnant in September 2009. About 21 weeks into the pregnancy, doctors at Dublin’s National Maternity Hospital informed Siobhán that the fetus had a fatal anomaly called Trisomy 13. One doctor informed Siobhán that in another jurisdiction she would be offered a termination, but that this was not possible in Ireland. Another doctor handed Siobhán a report of the scan suggesting she would need it if she decided to travel abroad to terminate the pregnancy. But the healthcare staff did not do anything to facilitate Siobhán’s contact with a UK hospital nor did they tell her what a termination entails. Additionally, the hospital staff never mentioned if or what support she could expect post-diagnosis.

Siobhán decided that ending the pregnancy was the best choice for her and her family. Siobhán and her husband had to arrange for time off work and for child care, as well as find the necessary funds to pay for travel, accommodations and the procedure abroad. On January 20, 2010, at 22 weeks, Siobhán’s pregnancy was terminated at the Fetal Assessment Center at Liverpool Women’s Hospital. When she returned to Ireland, Siobhán was not offered any support to deal with her grief.

“The Irish doctors made me feel like it was illegal to discuss the option of termination for fear of having the door slammed in my face or of not receiving any help whatsoever,” said Siobhán Whelan.  “I will never understand why I had to pack my bags and leave Ireland so I could access the medical care I needed. It is truly demeaning and I will never forget it.

Siobhán is a member of Terminations for Medical Reasons Ireland (TFMR Ireland), an advocacy group campaigning for Ireland to amend the abortion law to allow women to terminate pregnancies due to fatal fetal abnormalities. TFMR Ireland released the following statement:

“TFMR Ireland is a group of women and couples who have all made the heartbreaking decision to end a pregnancy early in cases of a fatal fetal diagnosis. Two years since coming together and publicizing our stories, we continue to be contacted by women and their partners currently going through this terrible time of loss. We are saddened and angered at how nothing has changed despite the government being made aware of the issue. It is disgraceful that the women of Ireland continue to be so grossly let down by their country.” 

Siobhán’s case is the second filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights before the UN Human Rights Committee in an effort to change Ireland’s harsh abortion law. On November 13, 2013 the Center filed a case on behalf of TFMR member Amanda Mellet who was also forced to travel to the United Kingdom to obtain safe and legal abortion services after she received a fatal fetal anomaly diagnosis. In the petition, the Center is seeking to hold Ireland accountable for violating Amanda’s basic human rights by subjecting her to severe mental suffering after being unable to access a termination of pregnancy in her own country.

“The abortion law in Ireland has a chilling effect on countless women, blocking them from essential reproductive health information and services,” said Luisa Cabal, vice president of programs at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “In Siobhán’s case, health care providers fundamentally failed her, robbing her of information and critical health care. The United Nations Human Rights Committee must hold Ireland accountable for its ill-treatment of women with nonviable pregnancies, in line with human rights standards.”