Ireland is due to appear before the human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on July 14th and 15th in Geneva as part of its fourth periodic report to that committee.
The documents available prior the hearing show that the Irish Government was given a list of questions by the Committee one of which, on the right to life is set out below together with the answers provided by the Government which sadly do not represent the real situation hat now pertains following the introduction of the legislation.
This meeting comes exactly a year since the Irish Government introduced abortion in Ireland. The Government’s misleading presentation of the law as a life-saving measure has resulted in widespread public confusion over what the new law actually involves is repeated in the answers to the questions raised.
Under the heading the Right to life (arts. 6, 7 and 17) the Committee asked:
12. Please provide information on:(a) How the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 is in compliance with articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant and the Committee’s previous recommendations;(b) Concrete measures that are being taken or envisaged to clarify what a “real and substantial risk” to the pregnant women’s life means in practice, in order to provide legal and clinical clarity for health providers and certainty for women experiencing potentially life-threatening pregnancies;(c) Whether the State party intends to introduce measures to broaden access to abortion to guarantee women’s rights under the Covenant, including when the pregnancy poses a risk to the health of the pregnant woman, where the pregnancy is the result of a crime, such as rape or incest, cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, or when it is established that the foetus will not survive outside the womb; and(d) Circumstances in which the Director of Public Prosecutions may authorize prosecutions, and against whom, under section 22 of the Act.
The following are the Irish Government replies:
Reply to question 12 (a)65. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 regulates access to lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with the X case and the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C v Ireland case. Its purpose is to confer procedural rights on a woman who believes she has a life-threatening condition, so that she can have certainty as to whether she requires this treatment or not.66. The Act upholds the right to life of the unborn where practicable, and the right to life of a pregnant woman whose life is threatened by her pregnancy, as required by Article 40.3.3. The Act also creates procedures which apply to the lawful termination of pregnancy. The objectives of these procedures are, firstly, to ensure that, where lawful termination of pregnancy is under consideration, the right to life of both the unborn and the mother are respected and afforded protection, in accordance with constitutional requirements, and secondly to ensure that a woman can ascertain by means of a clear process whether she is entitled to medical treatment to which the Act applies.Reply to question 12 (b)67. A Guidance Document to assist health professionals in the implementation of the Act is being prepared and is due to be finalised early in 2014. The Guidance will include identifying referral pathways to fulfil the requirement of the Act and other relevant operational matters.68. The relevant professional bodies continue to be responsible for issuing clinical guidelines to their members in relation to medical conditions that might be relevant to the Act.69. In addition, the Health Service Executive’s National Clinical Care Programme in Obstetrics and Gynaecology was established two years ago, with the overall aim of improving choices in women’s healthcare. A key area of work for the Programme is the development and implementation of national clinical guidelines, with the aim of ensuring consistency in clinical practice nationally.Reply to question 12 (c)70. There are currently no proposals to amend Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.71. The Health Service Executive, through its Crisis Pregnancy Programme, supports the provision of counselling services, medical services and such other health services for the purpose of providing support during and after any type of crisis pregnancy. The Programme is due to meet a group representing women who have received a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality in relation to relevant crisis pregnancy counselling and post-abortion counselling options currently available and ways to improve the standard of service nationwide.Reply to question 12 (d)72. It will be a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether to proceed with a prosecution and this decision will be based on the facts of each case.73. Penalties may apply to any person in breach of the Act. While it is recognised that the potential criminalisation of a pregnant woman is a very difficult and sensitive matter, this provision reflects the State’s constitutional obligation arising from Article 40.3.3. The sentence to be applied in any particular case is a matter for the Court involved.