To the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women,

After reading the findings of your report on Northern Ireland’s abortion law, I’m left feeling all upside-down and inside-out. You make some spectacularly pointed comments about the “violations” against women who apparently cannot access abortion, and the “great harm and suffering” thus incurred.

For a committee dedicated to removing discrimination against all women, I wonder where you have managed to veer so far off track. Have you forgotten your mandate?

Abortion is the ultimate discrimination against humanity. It is essentially agism. That is, it says that a pre-birth child’s age (and in some cases ability and circumstances of conception) dictates his or her right to live.

Yet, here you stand in judgement of Northern Ireland, one of the few Western countries that has doggedly defended the rights of pre-born women (and men) by calling abortion out for what it is: discrimination. But wait, isn’t that your job? Ending discrimination against women?

Ironically, your vice-chairwoman, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, told a news outlet that the situation in Northern Ireland “constitutes violence against women that may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

I don’t wish to downplay the trauma a woman goes through when faced with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. But let me tell you about violence and torture.

In a medical abortion, which is carried out via two tablets (Mifepristone and Misoprostol), the developing baby is starved of nourishment and oxygen and subsequently dies. I believe that outside of the womb, that would be classed as torture, or neglect at best.

In a surgical abortion (usually beyond 9 weeks), the baby is suctioned from the womb, the force of which dismembers its body to allow for ease of extraction. There is no consideration to whether the baby has any pain during the procedure. It is simply ripped into smaller pieces to make the abortionist’s job easier. I believe a case like this outside of the womb, of a living human being ripped apart, limb by limb, until death, would be front-page news the world over, and we would all be a little bit shellshocked at the extent of the violence.

There are other methods of surgical abortion too. Like intercardiac injection abortion. The abortionist takes a long needle containing potassium chloride and injects it through the mother’s abdomen into the baby’s heart. Labor is then induced. Cruel, isn’t it? We treat animals better, and in this respect, the RSPCA does a better job than you.

Let me remind you of a few other statements you made on the release of your report.

“The Committee… notes the great harm and suffering resulting from the physical and mental anguish of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to full term, especially in cases of rape, incest and severe foetal impairment.”

I’m sorry… but what right have you to project such negativity – of “harm and suffering” and “physical and mental anguish” – on a woman who is pregnant by rape, incest or who is carrying a baby with a disability? Some women choose to continue those pregnancies. They give birth to those children and love them. Their lives are touched by those children. Incidentally, less than 1% of abortions are performed because the woman has been the victim of sexual assault. In one study of 192 women who conceived as a result of sexual assualt, 70 per cent continued their pregnancies. Not one regretted the decision, while 78 per cent of the women who chose abortion regretted their choice.1

Rape is never the fault of the child. The guilty should be punished, not the innocent.

Here’s something that someone much smarter than me wrote about this topic:

“There is a close parallel between the violent attack on an innocent woman that happens in a rape, and the violent attack on an innocent child that happens in an abortion. Both are done in response to a subjective and misguided sense of need, and both are done at the expense of an innocent person. The woman might not hate the child in the same way the rapist hates his victim, but this is no consolation to the child.”2

If you, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, were to bump into one of these ‘unwanteds’ in the street, I wonder if your 23 members (each independent human rights experts) would acknowledge their inherent humanity; nod, smile, say “hello” and perhaps listen to their story. Or would you spit and turn away and name-call, “Daughter of a rapist!” “Retard!”

I know you wouldn’t. But I’m curious, why do the rules of discrimination change within a few short months?

Your statement continued…

“The situation gives Northern Ireland women three deplorable options: (a) undergo a torturous experience of being compelled to carry a pregnancy to full term; (b) engage in illegal abortion and risk imprisonment and stigmatisation; or, (c) undertake a highly stressful journey outside Northern Ireland to access a legal abortion. Women are thus torn between complying with discriminatory laws that unduly restrict abortion or risk prosecution and imprisonment.”

Deplorable. You call motherhood deplorable. And that’s the most deplorable thing I’ve heard in a while.

Motherhood, whatever the circumstances of conception, whatever the health and ability of the baby, should always be revered. It’s the reason you have the privilege of sitting on this committee at all. Someone nurtured you. She may not have been your biological mother. But someone said yes to your life. And aren’t you grateful? That there is a basic human right – to be raised in love and safety, nurtured to full potential.

In fact, this very thing is enshrined in your UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The 1989 declaration states:

“…the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”

And this too:

“The child shall enjoy the benefits of social security. He shall be entitled to grow and develop in health; to this end, special care and protection shall be provided both to him and to his mother, including adequate pre-natal and post-natal care. The child shall have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services.”

I couldn’t find anything suggesting that these rights of the child “before as well as after birth” could be tossed aside in certain circumstances.

Sadly, if your eyes travel across this letter, you will likely serve a dose of discrimination on me. On women and men like me. We are the “pro-lifers”, the “anti-choicers”, the loonies who won’t leave the topic alone. It’s a strange world where political correctness says it’s fine to stand up for women’s rights beyond the womb, but not women’s rights within the womb. It’s a taboo cause.

And I guess I hoped that an organisation of your calibre - the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – would be doing more to protect the vulnerable, those little ones who succumb daily to the violence, brutality, cruelty and torture you speak of.

I implore you to answer this question: why is it ok to stand up for a woman’s right to end her child’s life prematurely? And why are we scorned when we attempt to speak for those innocents?

Claire van Ryn.
On behalf of all people who believe children have rights “before as well as after birth”.


  1. David C Reardon, Julie Makimaa and Amy Sobie, Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About the Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault, 2000, Acorn Books, Springfield Illinois.
  2. Stephanie Croft, David and Catherine Cotton, Abortion in Australia into the 21st Century, 2006, NSW Right to Life, p15.

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