Abortion Issue a Red Herring

Wednesday, 30 May 2001

Release date: 30 May, 2001

Abortion Issue a Red Herring in International Criminal Court Debate

Opponents of the referendum authorising Ireland to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court are misinformed about the content of the treaty when they suggest it may jeopardise Irish law concerning abortion, says Professor William A. Schabas, Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, which is based at National University of Ireland, Galway.

"The Court is empowered to prosecute "forced pregnancy" as a crime against humanity", explained Professor Schabas. The term is further defined as "the unlawful confinement of a woman forcibly made pregnant, with the intent of affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law". Those drafting the Statute had in mind atrocities committed in concentration camps in the former Yugoslavia. The provision represents a consensus that resulted from negotiations involving several states with a particular interest in the abortion question, including the Holy See, Ireland and Malta, noted Professor Schabas.

During the referendum debate, adversaries of the Statute have suggested that the provision might be used to attack countries like Ireland where access to abortion is strictly controlled. But out of respect for the sensibilities of countries like Ireland, the Statute of the International Criminal Court also declares: "This definition shall not in any way be interpreted as affecting national laws relating to pregnancy." "The referendum challenge based on the abortion question is ill-informed and simply wrong," said Professor Schabas.

Professor Schabas is an internationally-recognized expert on the International Criminal Court and was a delegate to the 1998 Rome Conference at which the Statute of the Court was adopted.

Ends

Information from: Máire Mhic Uidhir, Press Officer, NUI, Galway

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