Report singles out Ireland for "highly restrictive" abortion laws

It says Ireland is one of several countries that has yet to reform its legislation

Report singles out Ireland for "highly restrictive" abortion laws

© Council of Europe 2017

A European report has singled out Ireland as one of the country's with "highly restrictive" abortion laws.

The study from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has named both the Republic and the North as countries that have yet to reform their laws in a manner that corresponds to other Council of Europe countries.

It says: "Over four-fifths of all Council of Europe member states have legalised abortion on a woman’s request, for reasons of distress or on broad socio-economic grounds.

"Of these 40 countries, 36 allow abortion on a woman’s request without restriction as to reason or for reasons of distress, with time limits ranging from 10 to 24 weeks, while the remaining four have legalised abortion on socio-economic grounds.

"In most of these countries, once the relevant time limit for abortion on request or socio-economic grounds has passed, abortion remains legal later in pregnancy when performed to protect a woman’s physical or mental health or where there is a severe or fatal foetal impairment."

In relation to Ireland, it says: "In eight cases in Europe, laws on abortion have yet to be reformed in a manner that corresponds to this approach.

"Andorra, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, Poland and San Marino all retain highly restrictive laws that forbid women’s access to abortion except in extremely limited circumstances.

However it notes that Andorra and Malta prohibit abortion in all situations.

'Severe sanctions'

The report adds: "In Ireland, abortion is legal only to avert a substantial risk to a woman’s life and in San Marino life saving care is permitted as criminal law exception.

"In Northern Ireland, the sole exceptions are for risks to a woman’s life or health."

It also looks at laws in Poland and Monaco, allow abortion only when there is a risk to a woman’s health or life, a severe foetal impairment, or the pregnancy is the result of sexual assault.

In terms of repercussions, the report says: "In many cases the sanctions outlined are severe: in Ireland, for example, the prescribed penalty for women can amount to 14 years in prison, while in Northern Ireland it can extend to life imprisonment."

It also says that as a result of the legal consequences, women in these countries "who resort to clandestine abortion" are often afraid to seek post-abortion care.

"This fear is often well founded - in some of these jurisdictions women who have had illegal abortions, or family members who assisted them, have subsequently faced criminal prosecution and penalties.

It cites one such case in Northern Ireland where a young woman was prosecuted and convicted after she became pregnant at 19 and induced an abortion by taking the abortion pill, which she ordered online.

On this, the report says: "The trial of a woman who helped her teenage daughter obtain the abortion pill, and who was subsequently reported to law enforcement authorities by a medical practitioner working at a clinic her daughter attended, is also pending before the courts in Northern Ireland."