There have been a number of attempts since the passing of the current government’s pro-abortion legislation, The Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act, to increase access to abortion in Ireland. Socialist TD’s (members of parliament) Clare Daly and Ruth Coppinger have made several attempts to introduce private members bills, either to remove the pro life amendment to the Constitution, or to widen the scope of the government legislation, in order to to kill unborn babies with fetal abnormalities and/or those conceived in rape.
In the wake of the disasterous result in the same sex marriage referendum, pro-abortion forces, buoyed up by that result, have continued to pressure Ireland’s coalition government to remove the pro-life amendment, Article 40.3.3.
The Irish Government, whilst indicating it was not against the idea of a referendum on the issue, has refused to do so this year as all political parties are now gearing up for a general election which must be held by the middle of next year. Health Minister Leo Varadkar made this clear recently when he told the Dail that a referendum to remove the 1983 pro-life amendment from the Constitution would be a matter for the next Dáil.
Apart from political pressure from within the country pressure is also being placed on the Government by UN Committees despite the fact that there is no such human right as a right to abortion, and the that International UN treaties protect the lives of all human beings including the unborn.
The most recent attempt to pressurise Ireland came from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).
The CESCR in it concluding observations, on the third periodic report of Ireland to the Committee, E/C.12/IRL/CO/3, said that the Committee is concerned at what they termed to be ‘Ireland’s highly restrictive legislation on abortion and strict interpretation thereof’.
The Committee recommended that Ireland,
“take all necessary steps, including a referendum on abortion, to revise its legislation on abortion, including the Constitution and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, in line with international human rights standards; adopt guidelines to clarify what constitutes a real substantive risk to the life of a pregnant woman; publicize information on crisis pregnancy options through effective channels of communication; and ensure the accessibility and availability of information on sexual and reproductive health.”
This Committee has a tendency to treat national laws with contempt as they issue instructions to countries under review to change their laws and policies on abortion, regardless of the fact the the Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights never mentions abortion.
Treaty body mandates create a narrow role for treaty bodies such as the CESCR and those bodies cannot exceed the scope of the authority set forth in the treaty itself. Specifically, committee recommendations, such as this, issued by treaty bodies are not binding on States Parties because such recommendations and comments are not part of the actual negotiated language of the treaty.
Moreover, treaty bodies do not have the authority to interpret or reinterpret treaties. Authoritative interpretations of treaties are reserved to States Parties collectively. Many diplomats have privately expressed concern that these treaty bodies have grossly exceeded their authority in recent years.
The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) sets out interpretive norms for all treaties. The VCLT in Article 31 says: "A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning (emphasis added) to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in light of its object and purpose." In other words, attention must be paid to the actual text of the treaty and, as an aid to interpretation, to its surrounding context.