A UN committee has declared that the UK is violating the rights of women in Northern Ireland by unduly restricting abortion access.
According to the Guardian, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women said that thousands of people are enduring “systematic violations of rights through being compelled to either travel outside Northern Ireland to procure a legal abortion or to carry their pregnancy to term.”
CEDAW vice-chair Ruth Halperin-Kaddari concluded that women in Northern Ireland are being forced to endure treatment that is considered “cruel, inhuman or degrading.”
“Denial of abortion and criminalization of abortion amounts to discrimination against women because it is a denial of a service that only women need. And it puts women in horrific situations,” she said.
The report advises the government to change the law to no longer bring criminal charges against those who receive or perform abortions, and also urges abortion to be made legal in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal impairment. Currently, Northern Ireland has the harshest criminal penalty for abortion in all of Europe; a woman who undergoes the procedure unlawfully can potentially face life in prison.
Last June, the UK government announced that it would provide abortion services in Northern Ireland free of charge via the National Health Service. Prior to that, women and other marginalized genders who sought abortions had to travel to England, Scotland and Wales, in addition to paying anywhere from £400-£2,000 for the procedure itself.