Women who seek access to abortion should be supported not criminalised

Reproductive rights are still far from being a reality in Europe today. Across the EU, many Member States restrict women’s access to abortion and abortion-related care. Some criminalise the procedure altogether.

Recent non-legislative reports in the European Parliament have highlighted the importance of reproductive rights. However, access to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services is fragmented and, in some cases, now under threat.

In a report earlier this month, the European Parliament affirmed the right to safe and legal abortion and urged the European Commission to include reproductive rights in its next health strategy. A majority of MEPs accepted that universal access to reproductive health services is a human right. Yet, in many Member States, women are being treated as criminals simply for trying to access family planning.

Amnesty International has launched a new campaign, She is not a criminal, focused on the situation in Ireland. It is part of their global campaign on reproductive health and rights, My Body My Rights.

In Ireland, abortion is only permitted in cases where the woman risks death and she must carry a foetus to term even if it is unlikely to survive. This can result in extremely traumatic experiences for women, particularly those who have mental health problems.

Although abortion is illegal – and carries a 14 year prison sentence – women can travel abroad to undergo the procedure instead. It is estimated that as many as 4,000 women and girls travel from Ireland to the UK each year to access abortions. This of course leaves the poorest and most vulnerable women without options.

Through the success of the referendum on equal marriage, Ireland sent a powerful message to the rest of the EU and the world that its citizens believe in equality and universal rights. I hope similar momentum will soon build for a change in abortion laws in Ireland and across the EU.

As we saw in the equal marriage referendum, this kind of change will not come about automatically. This is why I strongly support Amnesty’s campaign and urge you to get involved too.

She is #NotACriminal.

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