Article 7 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights states:
“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”
The Eighth Amendment very clearly discriminates against women on the grounds of sex and gender. The Amendment recognises the right to life of the “unborn”, giving “due regard to the equal right to life of the mother”. There is no other circumstance in Ireland where a person’s right to life is contingent upon other factors, except during pregnancy. Since only women* can become pregnant, only women have this restriction placed upon their right to life.
The HSE further discriminates against pregnant people when it denies freedom to refuse unwanted medical treatment during pregnancy, labour and birth. Women have been threatened with legal action and have even been brought to court for attempting to refuse procedures while pregnant.
Further, the Eighth Amendment discriminates between women on the basis of socio-economic status, nationality or migration status, disability and ethnicity:
- Women have a constitutional right to travel for an abortion, however, women who cannot afford to travel cannot avail of this right and are not offered any state support to facilitate travel. This effectively means that poor women cannot avail of this constitutional right in practice, or may suffer delays in being able to travel for abortion services.
- Women who are seeking asylum in Ireland are unlikely to be able to obtain visas for travel to the UK or wider Europe. Women who are applying for Irish citizenship may need to travel during the obligatory year of continuous residence, thus negatively affecting their application.
- Women with disabilities may have mobility issues which make travel difficult or impossible or they may require assistance or accompaniment to travel, increasing the cost of travel. Women with disabilities are also more likely to suffer from poverty and may not have the financial means to travel. Women with intellectual disabilities may face additional barriers in obtaining information about their healthcare and in dealing with the health services.
- Traveller women are much more likely to face difficulties in gathering the money to travel and in physically travelling, due to higher levels of poverty and of disability within the community. They can also face huge obstacles in getting accurate information on healthcare and abortion, which is compounded by the discrimination experienced by traveller women within the health service.
*all of our references to women should be understood to include women, girls, and non-binary and trans people who can become pregnant.