Amnesty International urged Ireland to ease its abortion ban on Tuesday in a damning report that said Europe's most restrictive laws on terminations endanger the lives of women.
The human rights watchdog's 113-page document included case studies of women who risked blood poisoning from dead fetuses that doctors refused to remove quickly; who were refused abortions after doctors determined the unborn child could not survive outside the womb; and who avoided post-abortion medical care in Ireland for fear of being identified as a criminal.
Entitled "She is not a Criminal: The Impact of Ireland's Abortion Law," the report demanded access to safe, legal abortions, with Amnesty's Secretary General, Salil Shetty, noting how women are treated like "child-bearing vessels."
"Women who need abortions are treated like criminals, stigmatised and forced to travel abroad, taking a serious toll on their mental and physical health," she said. "The Irish state can no longer ignore this reality, and the appalling impact it is having on thousands of people every year."
The report said Ireland should repeal its constitutional amendment giving the unborn fetus an equal right to life as the pregnant woman, arguing this 1983 clause conflicted with international human rights conventions that "human rights apply after birth." Colm O'Gorman, Amnesty's director in Ireland, said: "This needs to happen urgently as Ireland's current laws are putting the lives of women and girls at risk every day."
The Irish government, which in 2013 passed a law legalising abortions when deemed necessary to save the woman's life, declined to comment. The 2013 law was passed following the death in hospital of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, who suffered blood poisoning from a dying fetus that doctors refused to remove, and included a maximum 14-year prison term for abortion violators.
Amnesty said the new law still left doctors uncertain when they could legally perform an abortion without risk of being charged with murder.
Anti-abortion groups accused Amnesty of bias and of ignoring worse rights abuses committed by abortionists. "Now that Amnesty has become a de facto campaigning group on one side of the abortion debate, sadly it can no longer act in the role of unbiased and impartial defender of human rights," said Cora Sherlock, spokeswoman for Ireland's Pro Life Campaign.
In its conclusions, Amnesty called on Ireland to legalise abortion in cases of severe or fatal fetal abnormalities, of long-term risk to health caused by continued pregnancy, and of pregnancies linked to rape and incest.