Human Rights Watch, in a 57-page report, "A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland," said restrictive Irish laws and policies force women to overcome financial, emotional and other burdens by seeking care abroad without state support.
"Irish law on abortion is in and of itself an affront to human rights," said Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But it is made worse by the fact that even those who may qualify for a legal abortion in Ireland cannot get one due to deliberately murky policies that carry an implied threat of prosecution."
Every year thousands of women and girls travel from Ireland to other European countries for abortions, the report said.
"Women should not have to make decisions about their health and lives based on lies," Mollmann said. "Yet the law leaves 'rogue' agencies unregulated and threatens honest service providers with fines or worse if they help a distressed woman make a phone call to a clinic abroad."
Abortions are generally heavily restricted in Ireland except in cases in which a woman's health is jeopardized. But there is said to be little legal or policy guidance on when, specifically, an abortion might be legally performed within Ireland, the rights group said.
As a result, some doctors are reported reluctant even to provide prenatal screening for severe fetal abnormalities.