Restrictive abortion laws in Ireland are risking the lives of pregnant women, Amnesty International said Tuesday, as it launched a global campaign to encourage Dublin to change the legislation.
In Ireland, abortion is allowed only when there is risk to the life of the mother ?- rather than just her health — and the ban is applied even in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.
As part of the "My Body, My Rights" campaign, Amnesty is calling on Ireland to change its law so that women and girls can have abortions in those cases "at the very least".
"The human rights of women and girls are violated on a daily basis because of a constitution that treats them like child-bearing vessels," said the human rights group's secretary general, Salil Shetty.
Abortion is a deeply divisive issue in Ireland, a traditionally Catholic country, and ignites fierce debate whenever it is raised in public.
Amnesty said 177,000 women and girls had travelled from Ireland to England and Wales for an abortion since 1971. In 2013, at least 3,679 made that trip, according to the British department of health.
"Women and girls who need abortions are treated like criminals, stigmatised and forced to travel abroad, taking a serious toll on their mental and physical health," Shetty added.
'Wait until women are sick'
After Ireland passed a referendum on same-sex marriage last month, campaigners and politicians called for a referendum to be held to repeal the 8th amendment of the constitution, which grants equal rights to the foetus and the mother.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny has ruled out a vote before the next general election, which must be held by April.
"I do not believe in abortion on demand, but there are very sensitive stories in respect of fatal foetal abnormalities and other issues," he told parliament on May 26.
"However, it is not a case of simply repealing the eighth amendment and that everybody will be happy afterwards."
A spokesman for the Department of Health told AFP it was aware of the Amnesty report "and will consider its findings."
Peter Boylan, an obstetrician and former clinical director of Ireland's National Maternity Hospital, said that under the current law "we must wait until women become sick enough before we can intervene".
"How close to death do you have to be? There is no answer to that," he said.
Dublin introduced new laws in 2013 allowing for terminations in limited circumstances if the life of the mother was at risk.
It followed the death of 31-year-old Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital in October 2012, in a case that generated global attention.
Halappanavar had sought a termination when told she was miscarrying, but the request was refused as the foetus was alive and her life appeared not to be in danger. She died of blood poisoning days after miscarrying.