Ireland before the UN Human Rights Committee, inadequate guidelines and the Marie Stopes Clinic Belfast.

Welcome to the ARC News Roundup. This month has an all island focus. We will be discussing the UN Human Rights Committee’s review of Ireland’s performance on Human Rights, how the new guidelines on the Implementation of Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act fall short of safeguarding people’s lives and the case being brought against Bernie Smyth of Precious Life for the harassment of Dawn Purvis, Director of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast.

Campaign News

Ireland has signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and was reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in July. Members of the Abortion Rights Campaign delivered the joint address about the Irish State’s inaction on Abortion to the UNHR Comittee and spoke about Ireland’s non-compliance with this Human Rights Covenant. We also contributed to a joint statement with The Irish Family Planning Association, Doctors for Choice, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Termination for Medical Reasons and the National Women’s Council of Ireland. It was a high-profile opportunity to highlight the disappointing and inadequate response of the Irish state to the issue of access to abortion in Ireland. We invite you to read our blog post Abortion, Ireland & Human Rights – What? Who? How?, which provides some background to the UN Human Rights Committee process and meeting. The findings of the UNHRC were highly critical of Ireland’s record regarding the Human Rights of women. The Abortion Rights Campaign calls on Government to follow UN recommendations to hold a referendum on Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution.

ARC has begun planning for the 3rd annual March for Choice, which will take place on Saturday, 27th September to mark the International Day for the Decriminalisation of Abortion. If you are interested in helping to plan for the march please contact us on outreach@abortionrights.ie. Keep an eye out for more information on our website, newsletter, facebook page and on twitter.

On 5th July ARC members travelled to Belfast to join the Rally for Choice – a demonstration countering the All Ireland Rally for Life. A Press Release from Rally for Choice Ireland said the demonstration had been organised to “counter the notion that the ‘Rally for Life’ represents the sum total of public opinion in Ireland both North and South. Read ARC member Lorcan Nagle’s blog post about the counter protest.

The UN Human Rights Committee’s review of Ireland

Writing in the Irish Times, Kitty Holland reported that the Non Governmental Organisations appearing before the committee, which reviewed Ireland’s compliance with the ICCPR felt let down by the Irish Government. The article quotes Sinead Corcoran of ARC who stated that “The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act introduced new barriers to accessing legal abortion. …It discriminated against women with mental health issues and criminalised pregnant women whose health was at risk, who had a fatal foetal anomaly diagnosis or where they were pregnant as a result of a crime. This is cruel and degrading.” Emer O’Kelly of the Irish Idependent wrote “All in all, you could translate the views of the 18 distinguished specialists in human rights who make up the United Nations Committee on Human Rights as suspecting us of wallowing in a legislative framework that would have shamed a country in Dickensian times, much less in the 21st century.”

The Irish Examiner reported that the UN’s Human Rights Committee chair and former UN Special Rapporteur on torture told the Government “Irish abortion law treats women as a vessel and nothing more.” The Irish Independent states “The Tanaiste has ruled out an abortion referendum despite UN criticism.” ARC believes that it is not acceptable for the Irish Government to say that there is no solution to helping women to access abortion in their own country, especially when the opinion polls show that the government inaction is not in line with the will for change in Ireland. We ask that you join in our “I am not a vessel” campaign by tweeting at and sharing images with politicians of you and your friends holding I am not a vessel signs. Our politicians should care more about the lives of Irish women than the lifetime of this government. Post your photos at #iamnotavessel.

Human Rights Committee member, Yuval Shany, spoke with newstalk about the conclusions of the Committee’s review of Ireland’s record on Human Rights. Click here to view RTE’s coverage of the Government’s reactions to those findings. The Irish Times’ Niall Behan wrote “The trenchant criticism by the UN Human Rights Committee places yet another dark cloud over Ireland’s human rights record and echoes the experiences of women with unplanned pregnancies or whose pregnancies have become a crisis by virtue of being denied abortion services in their own country. The committee has extended these women a degree of respect and dignity – something the State has failed to provide – by affirming that Ireland’s abortion laws are in violation of human rights.” Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald being interviewed on the Pat Kenny Show about the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act and recent UN criticism on our restrictive abortion laws said “It’s hard to believe that it generated the kind of controversy that people would leave a political party because we were legislating to save the lives of women.” 35 minutes in.

Finally Amanda Mellet of Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland wrote in thejournal.ie “On the issue of access to abortion, the Government attempted to argue that Irish laws represented the ‘will of the people’ and as such its human rights obligations could not override this, citing article 25 of the Covenant itself. To say the Committee were not impressed would be an understatement; I would say they were offended and possibly even shocked by this bizarre argument being put forward. Committee member Mr Shany requested the Irish Government should withdraw this argument, as it clearly could not be used to justify a government continuing to carry out human rights abuses. Later, when it was pointed out by the committee that the economic cost or immigration status of some women could pose a discriminating barrier to them accessing abortion services abroad, the Government’s response was that they had ‘no solution’ to this and appeared to be saying that as they had not been sued about this yet, they did not see it to be a problem.”

Guidelines fall short of safeguarding lives

Following the story broken by the Irish Times on 3rd July that the guidelines for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (PLDPA), the Abortion Rights Campaign acknowledged the publishing of guidelines on the implementation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act; however, these guidelines, coming seven months after the commencement of the Act, have yet to be fully shared with the campaign and the people of Ireland. What little we know shows that the guidelines do little to lessen the impact of the onerous processes women seeking abortion in Ireland face.

During the passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas, ARC stated that this was ‘Legislation We Can’t Live With’. Now with more clarity around the restrictions women will encounter, we repeat our call for real, practicable access to abortion in Ireland. Even for women who fit the criteria of a ‘real and substantial risk’ to life, these guidelines fall far short of genuinely safeguarding their lives, to say nothing of their health.

Marie Stopes Belfast

A case has been taken against Bernie Smyth of Precious Life for harassing Dawn Purvis, Director of the Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast. The Marie Stopes clinic opened in Belfast in October 2012 and provides abortions under extremely limited circumstances. The Belfast Telegraph reported Dawn Purvis told the court that “she has been subjected to a barrage of abuse from Precious Life campaigners since quitting politics and taking up the role of programme director at Marie Stopes.” The BBC noted that the presiding judge interrupted proceedings to assert that he would “not allow this case to become a debate on pro-life or pro-choice”. According to the Belfast Telegraph he said “he simply has to determine if harassment took place.” The case has been been adjourned until September. To read and add your message of support for Dawn Purvis go the hashtag #istandwithdawn (I stand with Dawn).

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Have we missed anything? Related stories? Any events upcoming we should know about? Let us know in the comments!