United Nations Human Rights Committee: Ireland’s abortion laws too strict

June 20, 2016


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.   

The UN 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. She 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. 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.

Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

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 its decision, the 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 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. It also determined that Ireland’s failure to provide services that Ms. Mellet required constituted discrimination.

Health and Human Rights Journal

The Health and Human Rights Journal is currently calling for papers to be published in a special section in June 2017 on abortion from a human rights perspective. Please find more information below.