On Tuesday, the United Nations ruled for the second time in twelve months that Ireland’s abortion laws are a violation of human rights. Abortion is illegal in Ireland in all cases except when the woman’s life is at risk. The country’s abortion laws are guided by Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, which states that a fetus has the same right to life as the woman carrying it and can only be repealed by a popular referendum. Today’s ruling, issued by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), is a direct response to the 2010 case of Siobhán Whelan. Twenty-one weeks into her pregnancy, Whelan learned that her fetus had Trisomy 13, a fatal abnormality that causes most infants born with the condition to die within the first weeks, or even days, of being born. Whelan says she was told that had she lived elsewhere in the United Kingdom, she would be offered the option of terminating her pregnancy. Because she lived in Ireland, however, this was not only not an option, but illegal. Furthermore, she was reportedly given no information by her doctors on how to seek an abortion elsewhere in the U.K. Ultimately, Whelan and her husband chose to terminate the pregnancy, and had to find funding to cover child care, travel, and time off of work for them to travel to England for the procedure. In 2014, the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint before the UNHRC on behalf of Whelan.
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