The Irish government has been criticised for using a British law as an excuse to avoid having to make a controversial but important decision.
Amnesty International – an organisation that champions human rights – has issued a report that calls for the government to decriminalise abortion.
The report, titled ‘She Is Not A Criminal – The Impact of Ireland’s Abortion Law’, says that Ireland has ‘one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws’. It states that up to 12 Irish girls or women travel to England every day to get an abortion. The majority are aged between 20 and 34.
They have to cross the Irish Sea because abortion is a criminal offence in Ireland. A woman who seeks an illegal abortion risks a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
They would not only be committing a crime but also putting their health and safety at risk if they used an illegal abortion service.
The report also calls for other changes in the law including repealing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (PLDPA) and replacing it with a ‘legislative framework that ensures access to abortion both in law and in practice’.
An extract from the report states: “For over 20 years, Ireland refused to engage in abortion law reform, despite repeated criticisms and calls for action from international and regional human rights bodies. Instead, the government has relied on the “safety valve” of women travelling to England and other jurisdictions, abdicating its responsibility to address the issue.”
The PLDPA only allows abortion if the pregnancy puts a woman’s life at risk. However, Amnesty’s report criticised the law for being unclear.
It continued: “They offer little clarity into the circumstances in which women and girls may lawfully access an abortion, failing to define what constitutes a risk to life, as opposed to health. At the same time, the law and guidance introduce numerous barriers that must be overcome before a woman or girl may hope to qualify for a legal abortion.
“Women, healthcare providers and anyone who assists them face up to 14 years in prison for violating the PLDPA.”
While women in Ireland risk prison if they have an illegal abortion, the current law is so unclear that they may be forced to put their health at serious risk before they qualify to have the procedure performed legally.
The report adds that women are: “Forced to wait until their condition deteriorates sufficiently in order to justify a medical intervention.
“The narrow construction of Ireland’s life exception means that longer-term risks to the life of a pregnant girl or woman, such as cancer or heart disease, are entirely disregarded.”
The report also contains a number of case studies that tell the stories of women who have suffered because of Ireland’s abortion law.
Is Amnesty International right? Is it time for Ireland to update its abortion laws? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.