Submission of Evidence to the CEDAW Committee Optional Protocol: Inquiry Procedure
100 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2015 Last revised: 27 Feb 2015
Date Written: February 11, 2015
In December 2010, the Family Planning Association, the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform and Alliance for Choice made a joint request to the monitoring committee of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to conduct an inquiry into access to abortion in Northern Ireland under the Convention’s Optional Protocol. The request was motivated by several factors, namely, repeated concerns expressed by the CEDAW Committee to the UK about potential non-compliance due to the restrictive and unclear lawful access to abortion in Northern Ireland; evidence of systematic violation of rights guaranteed under CEDAW in the jurisdiction; as well as continuing delay by the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in publishing court-ordered guidance to women and clinicians in Northern Ireland on the availability and provision of termination of pregnancy services. The full submission of evidence supporting the request for the inquiry is over 100 pages in length and the bulk of the document is dedicated to describing and evidencing the systematic violation of CEDAW articles 2 (prohibition of discrimination), 5 (discriminatory social and cultural patterns), 10 (education), 12 (health), 14 (rural women) and 16 (family life), which prevail more broadly in the jurisdiction due to the restrictive social, cultural and legal context of access to abortion. The full submission documents: • The direct violation of CEDAW article 2, due to the existence of criminal sanctions for medical procedures required only by women. • The continuing article 5 violation caused by the UK government’s deference to discriminatory social and cultural attitudes surrounding abortion in Northern Ireland, as well as the associated problems of the cost and emotional burden of travelling to another jurisdiction to procure an abortion. • Article 10 concerns refer to the level of school discretion permitted in Relationships and Sexuality Education uniquely in Northern Ireland and not in the rest of the UK. • Non-compliance with article 12’s guarantee of non-discrimination in healthcare is detailed at some length, most notably, in terms of poor provision of abortion aftercare. • Extensive discussion is also given to procedural requirements of article 12 and the failure of the state to ensure that appropriate judicial, administrative and legislative measures were available to women entitled to a lawful abortion within the jurisdiction. • The particular toll on rural women of the restrictive access to abortion is detailed, especially because of the additional difficulties of guaranteeing patient confidentiality for women seeking medical advice in rural areas on their entitlement to an abortion. • The uneven physical and mental health consequences of the restrictive abortion regime, that are borne by women but not men, are detailed in order to demonstrate discrimination in marriage and family relations. Four years after the request for an inquiry, much remains unchanged: the court-ordered guidance has not yet been issued; the rights violations documented in the request for an inquiry continue; and the CEDAW Committee continues to express concern about the UK’s CEDAW non-compliance due to restrictive and unclear access to abortion in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, important developments are taking place on the ground in Northern Ireland, with genuine prospect for catalyzing legal and social change in the jurisdiction. The Northern Ireland Department of Justice has initiated consultation on amending the law to permit abortion in cases fatal feotal abnormality and to seek views on doing so in cases of sexual crime; the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has issued legal proceedings in the High Court against the Department of Justice, seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest; meanwhile, the Amnesty International Belfast Office has launched its ‘My Body, My Rights’ campaign to work with pro-choice organisations for liberalization of access to abortion in the jurisdiction. Our reason for disseminating the submission of evidence now, four years after the initial request for an inquiry, is due to this changed local context and the importance of recent developments. The submission is the most detailed, comprehensive and robustly evidenced documentation of the legal, political and social context of access to abortion in Northern Ireland, as well as the material, emotional and political consequences of the restrictive abortion regime. We hope that it will make a valuable contribution to these efforts for change and that it will help to keep the ongoing toll of the current restrictive regime on the lives of women in Northern Ireland at the centre of this debate. Abstract written by: Judith Cross, Dr Ann Marie Gray, Dr Catherine O’Rourke, Dr Audrey Simpson.
Keywords: CEDAW, abortion, Family Planning Association, Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform, Alliance for Choice
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