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The UN Human Rights Committee’s ground-breaking decision that Ireland’s law prohibiting and criminalizing abortion violated the human rights of a woman who had a diagnosis of fatal fetal impairment will advance women’s rights in Ireland and beyond, said Amnesty International today.

The UN Committee’s ruling today said Ireland’s laws prohibiting abortion violated the rights of Amanda Mellet, a dual citizen of Ireland and the U.S., as it denied her an abortion despite her receiving a diagnosis of fatal fetal anomaly in 2011. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee in November 2013 on Mellet’s behalf.

It is the first time that an international human rights body has found a state in violation of its human right obligations for criminalizing and prohibiting abortion.

“Today’s ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee is ground breaking for Ireland, and has far reaching global consequences. The prohibition, and by extension criminalization, of abortion in and of itself has been found to violate human rights. It is discriminatory and subjects women to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Ireland must take heed,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director.

The UN Committee found Ireland’s abortion laws subjected her to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and discrimination, in violation of Articles 7 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also found a violation of Article 17 on the right to privacy. It said that Ireland subjected Mellet to “intense physical and mental suffering.” It also called on Ireland to “amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy, including if necessary its Constitution, to ensure compliance with the Covenant, including effective, timely and accessible procedures for pregnancy termination in Ireland, and take measures to ensure that health-care providers are in a position to supply full information on safe abortion services without fearing being subjected to criminal sanctions.”

“The Irish government must take its head out of the sand and see that it has to tackle this issue,” said Colm O’Gorman, head of Amnesty International Ireland.

“The Irish public want change. A recent poll found that 87 percent of people want expanded access to abortion. It found that the overwhelming majority consider Ireland’s near total abortion ban cruel, inhumane and discriminatory. Today’s finding shows that they are right.”

The Committee found that Ireland’s criminalization of abortion caused Mellet shame and stigma and that her suffering was further aggravated by the obstacles she faced in getting information about the appropriate medical options.

The UN Human Rights Committee can hear cases brought by individuals against their governments to determine whether laws violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a key human rights treaty.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee in November 2013 on Mellet’s behalf. Today, the Center together with Amnesty International Ireland, the Irish Family Planning Association, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, and Termination for Medical Reasons held a joint press conference in Dublin to urge the Irish government to comply with the ruling without delay.

Background to the case:

In 2011, during the course of her pregnancy Amanda Mellet discovered that the fetus had a fatal fetal impairment. She knew she could not continue with the pregnancy and asked her doctors for an abortion. However because Ireland outlaws abortion in almost all circumstances, she was forced to travel to the United Kingdom to end her pregnancy.