U.N. panel: Irish woman unfairly forced to seek abortion abroad

GENEVA/DUBLIN (Reuters) - An Irish woman forced to choose between carrying her baby with a fatal congenital defect to term and going abroad for an abortion had her rights violated and deserves compensation, a United Nations panel said on Thursday.

Abortion laws in majority Roman Catholic Ireland are among the most restrictive in the world: a complete ban on terminating a pregnancy was lifted in 2013 after large street protests from both sides. It is now allowed if a mother’s life is in danger.

The woman known as “AM” complained to the U.N. Human Rights Committee after being told in the 21st week of pregnancy in November 2011 that her baby would die in the womb or shortly after birth, which led her to have an abortion in Britain.

This meant she had to choose “between continuing her non-viable pregnancy or traveling to another country while carrying a dying fetus, at personal expense and separated from the support of her family, and to return while not fully recovered”, the independent experts said in their findings.

The woman was subjected to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment prohibited under international law, they said.”Many of the negative experiences she went through could have been avoided if (she) had not been prohibited from terminating her pregnancy in the familiar environment of her own country and under the care of health professionals whom she knew and trusted,” the Committee said.

In a statement, the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights welcomed the “ground-breaking ruling” as sending “the clear message that Ireland’s abortion laws are cruel and inhumane, and violate women’s human rights”.

Ireland, which has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is obliged to provide AM with an effective remedy, including adequate compensation and psychological treatment she may need, the U.N. panel said. Ireland is also obliged to prevent similar violations, it said.

Amnesty International Ireland’s head, Colm O’Gorman, said in a statement: “The Irish government must take its head out of the sand and see that it has to tackle this issue.”

The abortion issue is hugely divisive in Ireland and the new minority government resisted calls to directly loosen the laws, instead leaving it to a citizens’ assembly which will be established by year-end to recommend any changes to the law.

Activists want to abolish the amendment of the constitution which enshrines the equal right to life of the mother and her unborn child, and at the very least allow for abortion in cases such as rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormality.

Anti-abortion supporters demand that the eighth amendment remains in place to safeguard all life. Abolishing it would require a national referendum.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Louise Ireland