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Friday, May 6, 2016

"Time for Irish Government to stand up to UN on abortion," writes Cora Sherlock

I don’t think anyone will be too surprised to hear that next week’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations will provide an opportunity for the UN to apply pressure to the Irish Government on what it terms our “restrictive abortion laws”.
Much like Amnesty International, the UN trades on its reputation for defending human beings but doesn’t live up to that reputation when it comes to unborn babies.  We’ve become well used at this stage to how the UN reviews Ireland on this issue – it ignores the excellent work done by our medical profession and the fact that we are world leaders when it comes to protecting women and babies in pregnancy. 
Never mind that, says the UN.  What about abortion?  Why isn’t that more freely available?  (If only the UN had taken such an active role in questioning the Irish Government back in 2013 when it introduced a law allowing for abortion during the full 9 months of pregnancy when there is a threat of suicide even though there is no medical evidence to show that abortion treats suicide ideation).
When the UPR takes place in Geneva, other countries will be given a platform to ask questions of Ireland – this regardless of the fact that Ireland has a good or better record in protecting women’s lives than any of them.  But still, this is the UN and there is clearly an agenda at work. 
So we’re told that Sweden intends to ask what the Irish Government is prepared to do “to bring its legislation and medical practices in line at least with minimum international standards of sexual and reproductive health and rights and to allow abortion in the most serious cases such as rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormality and serious risks to the health of the mother.”
In other words, Sweden wants to know when the Irish Government will introduce wide-ranging abortion to birth even though the language used in its question tries to disguise this fact.
The Netherlands will asked what the Government will do about “the restrictive abortion regime in Irish law.”
The framers of that question clearly don’t know – or care – about the 2013 Act which is hardly restrictive for reasons already mentioned.
And Germany wants to know whether the Government will review the 8th Amendment “in which the biological existence of a foetus is put on an equal basis with the right to life of a pregnant woman.”
The language here is particularly dehumanizing. We only have a “right to life” because we have a “biological existence” after all, but even the use of the term “foetus” rather than “unborn child” tells you all you need to know about Germany’s intentions in posing this question.
Two things would be great about the UN’s review next week. The first would be if the UN acted as it should, and actually framed a debate that would protect all human lives, born and unborn. While it’s at it, the UN could also ask a few questions of its own – like why countries that do allow abortion do nothing about abuses like babies born alive and left to die alone in hospital corners.  Or what they’re doing to encourage women to find another option, particularly given the recognized but mostly-ignored phenomenon of abortion regret.
But I don’t hold out much hope for that so I’ll opt for the second thing I’d like to see – the Irish Government putting up a robust defence to any questions that try to detract from the life-saving provision that is the 8th Amendment.   They should defend it as something which was chosen by the Irish People and acts as a beacon for the international human rights community.   They should point to the tens of thousands of people who are alive in Ireland thanks to the 8th Amendment.  And they should go to Geneva in the full knowledge that we have reason to be proud, not ashamed of a provision that has ensured our medical profession has not been corrupted by something as negative as abortion.
That’s what they should do – but will they?  On the basis of the last few years, it’s unlikely but we’ll wait and see.  And live in hope because that’s the hallmark of the 8th Amendment itself.

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