Ireland Won’t Defend Pro-Life Law As Citizens Rally For It

By Rebecca Oas, Ph.D. | May 26, 2016

NEW YORK, May 27 (C-Fam) As one of the few European countries with strong laws protecting unborn children, Ireland has come under repeated attack from international institutions such as the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights.  Ireland’s constitution remains pro-life—but in the wake of the latest barrage of criticism, there are signs that the country’s resolve may be weakening.

In mid-May, Ireland took its turn in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a system in which countries are evaluated by other UN member states on their human rights record.  Recommendations are not legally binding and can be accepted or merely “noted” by the recipient country.  In the final report containing all the recommendations for Ireland, fifteen countries (out of 193) explicitly called on Ireland to move toward legalizing abortion.  Another three countries, including the United States, urged Ireland to protect “reproductive rights,” which is often considered to include abortion.

This was Ireland’s second appearance before the UPR. In 2011, Ireland received six recommendations to liberalize its abortion laws, including one from Norway falsely implying that a UN treaty included a right to abortion.  All were rejected.  But in this latest cycle, Ireland agreed to “examine” the abortion-related recommendations, while admitting that accepting them was currently impossible given their existing laws.

However, Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Frances Fitzgerald called abortion a “live issue” and spoke of plans to form a citizens’ assembly to discuss the issue and promised to provide a response by September.

Despite no mention of abortion in any UN treaty, Ireland has been criticized by committees monitoring compliance with the UN treaties on torture, discrimination against women, and civil and political rights.

When the UN’s Human Rights Committee held discussions last fall to define the “right to life,” they excluded the unborn.  The committee’s opinion is not binding, but fuels further pressure against countries whose laws affirm a higher standard.

Amnesty International has especially targeted Ireland for its pro-life laws. The spokesman for Amnesty’s Irish branch welcomed Ireland’s receptive response to the pro-abortion pressure.

Irish pro-life groups are urging the government not to back down. “There is of course no such thing as a “human right” to an abortion,” writes Cora Sherlock of the Pro-Life Campaign.  “Such a notion would be obscene because abortion contravenes the most basic human right of all – the right to life… We expect the UN to act as a protector of human lives.”

Sherlock credits Ireland’s 8th Amendment, which protects both mothers and their unborn babies, with “saving the lives of thousands of people in Ireland.” The Pro-Life Campaign is holding a rally on June 4th to “Celebrate the 8th” and hear the “stories of families that would never have been if our constitutional protection for the unborn didn’t exist.”

Another topic on which UN treaties are silent is sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI), but several countries at the UPR affirmed Ireland’s recent adoption of same-sex marriage, a development Fitzgerald referred to as “arguably, the single most important development in human rights in Ireland” since the last round of the UPR.

Recommendations pressuring countries to embrace SOGI greatly outnumber those on abortion in the UPR; but many countries are pushing back.  As of May 2015, less than a quarter of SOGI recommendations calling for changes in national laws have been accepted.