A United Nations watchdog has raised concerns about the welfare of women in Ireland since the death of a woman after she miscarried.

Anand Grover said abortion should be legal if a pregnancy is adversely impacting on a woman’s health, and not just her life.

Arguing that the life of a mother is much more important than the right of the unborn, the UN special rapporteur on the right to health also accused countries that criminalise abortion of discriminating against woman, particularly the marginalised, poor and minorities.

“You cannot limit availability and accessibility of health services, goods and facilities only on the basis of life exception,” said Mr Grover speaking on the grounds for terminations.

“If it impacts adversely on the woman’s health or the right to health, that should be a ground.”

The Cabinet is due to decide tomorrow on whether it will introduce legislation, or a combination of legislation and regulation, to reform the country’s limited ban on abortion in the new year.

Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar died at Galway University Hospital on October 28th, 17 weeks into her pregnancy. She suffered septicaemia following her miscarriage.

The dead woman’s husband Praveen claims doctors refused to carry out an abortion because a foetal heartbeat was present. He says they were told Ireland “is a Catholic country”.

A statutory inquiry and an HSE clinical inquiry in to the death of the 31-year-old are continuing.

Mr Grover, a lawyer, was in Dublin to give a keynote address at a conference and not in his official role.

But he said he has already had discussions with Government officials in Ireland over the abortion controversy.

“I am concerned about women’s situation all over the world, particularly in Ireland, because of the Indian woman who died,” he said.

“It had an impact in India and actually made me look in this issue slightly more in detail, so I’m concerned about it.”

Mr Grover maintained if treated in India, Ms Halappanavar would never have died, as the law allows a woman to access reproductive and health services, including abortion, on the basis of adverse impact on her health.

Mr Grover spoke out at Realising Women’s Right to Health, a conference organised by the Women’s Human Rights Alliance (WHRA) and the National Women’s Council of Ireland to mark the second anniversary of the A,B and C v Ireland judgment.

He maintained criminal laws and other legal restrictions on sexual and reproductive health interfere with human dignity and disempower women, who may be deterred from taking steps to protect their health, in order to avoid liability and out of fear of stigmatisation.

“As a result, women and girls are punished both when they abide by these laws, and are thus subjected to poor physical and mental health outcomes, and when they do not, and thus face incarceration,” he added.

 
 
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

My objective during this visit has been to evaluate the situation of human rights defenders in the country.  Defenders are those who promote and defend human rights in a peaceful manner. The following statement contains my preliminary findings and recommendations. I will present my final report at the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in March 2013.

[...]

Defenders and activists working on sexual and reproductive health
The situation and challenges faced by those defenders working on sexual and reproductive rights, particularly those providing information to women about abortion has come to my attention during the visit. Ireland has one of the most restrictive laws in Europe regarding the termination of pregnancies whereby abortion is considered a crime in constitutional and criminal law, and where women could be punished with life-term prison sentences. To date, no convictions have been made under the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861.

The 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the case known as “X” case provided guidance on how to interpret the existing constitutional right to abortion under article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. The European Court of Human Rights in 2010 (“ABC” case) has stated that Ireland violated the right to privacy of a woman when not allowing a lawful abortion and requested a more effective procedure regarding requirements to be met to qualify for legal termination of pregnancy. Both decisions are still to be implemented which means that currently no legislation or regulatory framework exists which defines whether or not a woman is entitled to have access to legal abortion. I was assured by high ranking Government officials that the outcome of the Expert Group set up to advice the Government on how to tackle this issue would be made public very shortly.  This is particularly pressing given the tragic death of Ms. Savita Halappanavar after doctors allegedly refused a termination of her pregnancy last month.

Moreover, I am concerned at reports and evidence received indicating the existence of a smear campaign and stigmatisation of those advocating for the reproductive rights of women by the part of vested interest groups using printed media.