A woman in Ireland carrying a dying foetus was the victim of “inhuman” treatment caused by the country’s strict abortion laws, the United Nations says.
The UN Human Rights Committee called on Ireland to “amend” its abortion laws, and if necessary, its constitution to protect patients and health workers who fear criminal punishment for providing information about terminating a pregnancy.
Ireland has some of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws — at present termination is allowed only when there is risk to the life of the mother, rather than just her health.
The UN committee heard that in November 2011, during her 21st week of pregnancy, doctors in Ireland told Amanda Mellett, a woman with joint Irish and US citizenship, that her foetus had congenital defects and would die either in the womb or shortly after birth.
To terminate the pregnancy, she paid her own way to Britain and returned to Ireland 12 hours after the procedure because she could not afford to stay longer.
“The ashes [of the foetus] were unexpectedly delivered to her three weeks later by courier,” a statement from the UN rights office said.
The UN experts found that Ms Mellett should have been able to abort the fatally ill foetus in Ireland “under the care of health professionals whom she knew and trusted”.
According to the latest official figures released by the Department of Health in the UK, 3,451 women travelled from the Republic of Ireland to Britain for an abortion in 2015.
‘Cruel, inhuman’ treatment due to prohibitive laws
Irish law allows health workers to give patients information about abortions, but they face punishment if they are perceived to be promoting the termination of a pregnancy, including in the case of a dying foetus.
The UN experts said that had a chilling effect on healthcare providers, who struggle to distinguish ‘supporting’ a woman who has decided to terminate a pregnancy from ‘advocating’ or ‘promoting’ abortion.
They claimed the woman “was subjected to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as a result of Ireland’s legal prohibition of abortion”.
Campaigners and politicians have called for a referendum to repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment that grants equal rights to the foetus and the mother.
Ailbhe Smyth, convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, a lobby group urging a referendum on the issue, said she believed the decision would bring it closer.
“The decision has no legal bearing but moral pressure translates into social pressure,” she said.
However, Tracy Harkin, a spokeswoman for Dublin-based anti-abortion group Every Life Counts, said that instead of advocating abortion “the UN should be pressing to protect these very sick babies and provide better care, such as perinatal hospice care, for the families involved”.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
© 2016 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here.