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UN: Northern Ireland abortion laws violate women's reproductive rights

[JURIST] A UN committee found [report, PDF] Friday that the UK is breaching the rights of women in Northern Ireland by restricting their access to abortions.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) stated [press release] that women and girls in Northern Ireland are faced with systematic violations of their rights because the UK is forcing them to either carry their pregnancy to term or travel outside of the country to have a legal abortion.

The report concluded that these restrictions on women's reproductive choice can lead to mental and physical suffering which constitutes as violence against women.

The Committee's vice-chairwoman, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, said that the"denial of abortion and criminalisation 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."

A woman who undergoes an illegal abortion in Northern Ireland can face life in prison, which is the harshest criminal penalty for abortion in Europe. The report recommends modifying the law to put an end to criminal charges against women and girls who choose to have an abortion and to allow the procedure to be legal in pregnancies that result from incest or rape.

The government issued a response [statement, PDF] to these recommendations stating that the "Committee's findings and recommendations which focus on changes to the criminal law on abortion cannot be addressed in the absence of a legislature with authority to legislate on such matters in Northern Ireland."

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