She is Not a Criminal: The Impact of Ireland’s Abortion Law

June 9, 2015

She is Not a Criminal: The Impact of Ireland’s Abortion Law

Pregnant women and girls risk putting their health and lives in danger if they remain in Ireland, Amnesty International said in a report on the country’s abortion law.

The report She is Not a Criminal: The Impact of Ireland’s Abortion Law documents shocking cases of Irish authorities denying women and girls necessary healthcare in order to prioritize the life of the fetus – which is protected by an amendment to Ireland’s constitution added in 1983.

Only allowing abortion if the woman’s life is at risk, Ireland’s abortion law is one of the most restrictive in the world, forcing at least 4,000 women and girls to travel outside the country for an abortion every year at considerable mental, financial and physical cost. Women and girls who cannot travel are left without access to necessary health treatment, or risk criminal penalties if they undergo illegal abortions at home.

‘Fear for my life’

The report presents testimony from women who have undergone abortions abroad, some of whom suffered miscarriages but were forced to carry a dead or unviable fetus inside them for weeks in the futile hope they could get the health care they need in Ireland. Róisín was forced to carry a dead fetus for weeks because doctors wanted to be absolutely sure there was no fetal heartbeat. She told Amnesty International:

“I wouldn’t be inclined to trust services for women in this country at the moment.”

Lupe, who was carrying a fetus with no heartbeat for 14 weeks, told Amnesty International she had to travel to her home country of Spain for proper medical treatment:

“I didn’t feel safe at all…I was feeling really scared because it became clear to me, that if any complication was raised, these people would let me die.”

It is not just women seeking abortions who are denied access to healthcare by the focus on the fetus. Health staff refused Rebecca H., who was gravely ill, a C-section for fear that it would harm her fetus. Instead, they forced her to endure 36 hours of labour saying their job was “to look after the baby, the baby comes first.” She told Amnesty International:

“I would fear for my life to have another child in Ireland.”

Dr. Peter Boylan, an obstetrician, gynecologist and former Master and Clinical Director of Ireland’s National Maternity Hospital told Amnesty International about the legal and ethical tightrope medical staff are forced to walk:

“Under the [current law] we must wait until women become sick enough before we can intervene. How close to death do you have to be? There is no answer to that.”

One of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world

Ireland is the only country in Europe - apart from Andorra, Malta and San Marino – that bans women from getting abortions even in cases of rape, severe or fatal fetal impairment or a risk to their health, which is their human right under international law.

Amnesty International today launched a campaign calling on Ireland to change its law so that women and girls can have abortions in those cases, at the very least.

Irish law even makes it a crime for doctors and counsellors to give women complete information on what treatment they need and how to get an abortion safely. Doctors and counsellors spoke to Amnesty International of their frustration at Ireland’s Regulation of Information Act, which rights group want Ireland to repeal.


The report release is part of Amnesty International's My Body My Rights campaign. The campaign against government efforts to control and criminalize women will see a global movement of seven million people campaign on a human rights issue in the Republic of Ireland for the first time, with petitions, demonstrations and letters targeting Irish leaders.