The Irish Council for Civil Liberties today welcomed a statement from UN women’s rights expert, Frances Raday, on the forthcoming referendum, saying that it brings a welcome note of clarity regarding the systematic violation of fundamental rights that the Eighth Amendment means for pregnant people, particularly survivors of rape, in Ireland.
Frances Raday is Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council’s Expert Group on Discrimination against Women, former Chair of the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Expert Member of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). She is calling for a yes vote in the forthcoming referendum.
In her statement, Ms Raday said that “The Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, by making a symmetrical equivalence between the right to life of foetuses and women, results in the systematic violation of the human rights of women and girls”.
She further stated that the Eighth Amendment “may result in grave violation of the right to be free from arbitrary detention” and that “cases which would give grounds for allegations of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, are any cases where pregnant women and girls have been detained in psychiatric institutions although their distress was, according to psychiatric opinion, caused by pregnancy and not by a psychiatric disorder; have been subjected to forced feeding in response to refusal to eat; or have been refused access to legal abortion where the pregnancy resulted from rape, including in the case of pregnancies of girls under the age of eighteen.”
The right to be free from torture and the right to be free from arbitrary detention are both absolute rights, meaning that the State can never restrict them under any circumstances, even pregnancy.
Director of the ICCL, Liam Herrick, said:
“A vote to retain the Eighth Amendment is a vote to continue to subject women and girls who have been raped to treatment that may amount to torture or arbitrary detention. It is a vote to continue denying fundamental rights to pregnant people. It is a vote to continue to ignore the plight of the most marginalised in our society. It is a vote which says that cruel mistreatment of women and girls in crisis should be allowed to continue unabated.”
The Eighth Amendment does not allow for abortion even in cases of rape or fatal foetal anomaly. Following the death of Savita Halappanavar, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act clarified that the law does allow for abortion when there is a ‘real and substantial risk of the loss of the woman’s life’, however its threat of fourteen years in jail for unlawful abortions hangs over doctors who may be uncertain what constitutes “real” or “substantial” risk. Additionally, in the 2017 case of Miss M, a vulnerable child who requested an abortion under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was detained under mental health law and subsequently released by court order. In the 2015 case of Ms. Y, an asylum seeker who had been raped in her own country and was suicidal as a result was force-fed when she went on hunger strike to plead for the lawful termination of her pregnancy.
Mr. Herrick said:
“Those who don’t have the necessary papers or resources to travel are left in situations like those of Miss M and Ms Y. After hearing about these cases, only women and girls in the most desperate circumstances would try to access an abortion under the PDLPA. Michael McDowell recently said that the next Ann Lovett will be a girl who dies after taking an abortion pill alone in the next Granard. The reality may be even more horrific than that.”
The ICCL is currently running a campaign highlighting how the Eighth Amendment violates fundamental human rights.