As an associate of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, I occasionally provide posts for the Hub’s excellent blog. Yesterday my latest contribution was published. In “Ireland’s Abortion Ban: Subjecting Women to Suffering and Discrimination“, I consider the challenges posed by Mellet v Ireland and how the government might respond to them. I also argue against taking a narrow approach of addressing access to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality only, and leaving the remainder of the 8th Amendment regime changed. The full post can be accessed here, and closes thus:
The Irish people voted on abortion in 1983, 1992 and 2002, but no referendum has ever offered the opportunity to liberalise abortion law. The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) has committed to convening a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ to consider inter alia revisiting the 8th Amendment, and the UNHRC’s decision is expected to expedite this. However, to take the UNHRC’s decision as outlining ‘all’ that has to be done to make Irish abortion law compliant with human rights law and basic conceptions of bodily integrity, autonomy and self-determination, would be to mitigate the cruelty of the 8th Amendment only in a very particular kind of circumstance (FFA) without addressing the overall dilemma for pregnant women in Ireland. Thus, it is imperative that the terms of reference for the Citizens’ Assembly are expansive and allow for every option to be considered, including placing a positive statement of the right to self-determination in all medical matters into the Constitution.
The likelihood of that happening, however, seems low as long as the Government seems unwilling to have ‘big’ and difficult conversations about the status of the foetus, autonomy and self-determination, choice, medical care and medico-legal culture, belief, and morality. While decisions like the UNHRC’s can prompt political action, they cannot compel this difficult, uncomfortable, but necessary national conversation. Only political leadership and courage can do that. We wait to see whether that will be the legacy of the promised Citizens’ Assembly.