Forced To Travel Abroad To Get An Abortion, Irish Women Take Their Human Rights Case To The UN

CREDIT: AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik

Savita Halappanavar's tragic death sparked massive protests and calls for policy change

Three Irish women who were forced to leave the country to have an abortion, even though their fetuses had been diagnosed with fatal diseases and had no chance of surviving outside the womb, are taking their case to the United Nations. Represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, they’re asking the UN’s Human Rights Committee to put pressure on Ireland to loosen its stringent abortion ban.

Ireland’s harsh abortion policy has come under particular scrutiny over the past year, making international headlines after Savita Halappanavar died because she was denied an emergency abortion at an Irish Catholic hospital. Halappanavar’s preventable death sparked global outrage, and eventually led Ireland to amend its abortion ban for the first time in over 150 years.

The new law clarifies that women should be able to legally terminate a pregnancy if their lives are at risk — but it doesn’t allow for legal abortions in any other circumstances, even when women discover serious fetal abnormalities that will cause their unborn children to suffer and die outside of the womb. Reproductive rights advocates point out that’s still much too harsh, and is forcing women to travel abroad to get the health care they desperately need.

Women who discover fatal fetal abnormalities are in particularly desperate situations. They typically have to make the very difficult choice to end a wanted pregnancy, rather than waiting to give birth to a child who will likely suffer for the brief time that he or she remains alive.

Amanda Mellet, the first of the three woman to testify in front of the UN, “fought back tears” as she described “the most horrific and heartbreaking experience of her life” at a press conference on Wednesday. She believes her heartbreak was compounded by the fact that was denied medical care in her own country. “There is no doubt in my mind being forced to leave Ireland and end my pregnancy of my much wanted baby overshadowed my grief,” she said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights believes that Ireland is violating the basic human rights of women like Mellet.

“Rather than being provided with the best medical care possible, Irish women with nonviable pregnancies are instead cruelly denied the option of safely and legally ending their pregnancy,” Johanna Westeson, the organization’s regional director for Europe, noted in a statement. “We hope the Human Rights Committee will find that Ireland must amend its extreme abortion law — so women facing serious pregnancy complications can access safe and legal abortions in their own country.”

These types of human rights abuses aren’t just evident in other countries. Here in the United States, some women can’t terminate a pregnancy even after discovering serious fetal abnormalities because their states have banned late-term abortions. For instance, as MSNBC’s Irin Carmon recently reported, Jessica Davis was forced to travel from Oklahoma to Texas after discovering that her unborn son had a severe brain malformation. The trip was so expensive that Davis, her husband, and their three small children ran out of money for food and lodging. By the end of the trip, they were eating microwave popcorn and Ramen noodles and sleeping in their car.

Nonetheless, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a 20-week abortion ban, and Republicans in the Senate just introduced their own version of the legislation last week. If enacted, a measure like that could force some U.S. women to make international trips, just like Mellet.