Ireland agrees to pay woman who had to travel to England to get an abortion

Abortion laws in Ireland are absolutely terrible, but there might be a tiny light of hope for pro-choice advocates. This week, Ireland agreed to pay a woman emotional damages for her abortion, since the country’s laws forced her to travel to England to get one. Amanda Mellet took her case all the way to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), along with three other women, claiming that Ireland’s abortion laws were cruel and inhumane.

In 2011, Mellet discovered that her fetus had severe congenital defects and wouldn’t be able to survive outside of the womb. But she was already 21 weeks pregnant. Ireland’s abortion laws don’t allow an abortion unless it’s part of a medical procedure to save a woman’s life. So, Mellet and her husband, James, were faced with the choice of giving birth to a baby that would be dead or travel for the procedure.

In a huge victory for Irish women, the UNHRC ruled in June that Ireland must pay Mellet €30,000 for “cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment” and that the country change it’s abortion laws to allow abortions in cases of fetal abnormalities. Ireland just agreed to the damages but made no formal commitment to change the abortions laws just yet. So, it’s a huge victory, but one to watch.

In Mellet’s case, she went to England for her abortion and returned home 12 hours later, because she couldn’t afford to stay longer. The hospital she went to didn’t have any policies regarding fetal remains, but three weeks later mailed the ashes to her. The UNHRC said Ireland failed to provide her bereavement counseling after a miscarriage and didn’t take her medical and socio-economic needs into account.

Mellet said in a statement, “I am immensely grateful to Minister Harris for his personal apology to me last night and offer of compensation and counseling. It goes a long way towards closure for what was the most painful chapter of my life.”

According to The Irish Times, the Eighth Amendment, which states that a woman and a fetus have an equal right to life, can’t be changed until the next Oireachtas (Ireland’s legislative body) has a referendum and rules on it, which won’t be until the end of 2017. Legal advocates also told The Irish Times that the country agreeing to pay Mellet isn’t a legal precedent that can be used in Irish courts for other women just yet.

Mellet’s case has been largely publicized in Ireland and England. This August, two Irish women live-tweeted their travels to England to get an abortion under the Twitter handle @TwoWomenTravel. During their trip, they shared updates on their abortions and appealed to Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to call for a referendum (the referendum that the UNHRC ordered in June). Kenny did not respond about changing abortion laws, but the two women had a staggering amount of women tweeted their support, many of them fellow Irishwomen who had to do the same thing.

Traveling to England for an abortion is a common experience for Irish women. In fact, national organizations offer information on how to actually do it on advocacy websites. The sharing of that information is protected by Ireland’s constitution, but they can’t give it out over the phone on a hotline. It’s estimated that there are at least nine women every day who are making the trip to terminate a pregnancy.

This ruling won’t benefit all of those women, but hopefully it means some big changes are coming to Irish abortion laws.