Abortion on the internet revives an old controversy
Deaglán de Bréadún
As a morning-radio addict, I find it often has a soporific effect and helps me go back to sleep before the inevitable moment when the day must start. But I nearly jumped out of bed when the BBC’s Today programme reported that medications which induce an abortion can now be obtained on the internet.
This morning’s programme revealed that a group called Women on Web is offering customers the opportunity to perform abortions on themselves with a combination of pills that are ordered by post.
Women on Web is reportedly available in five languages and mails the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol only to jurisdictions where abortion is heavily restricted, and to women who declare they are less than nine weeks pregnant. Women in Northern Ireland – and presumably the Republic – have used the internet site to purchase the medications for a minimum donation of €70 (£55) a time.
However the report adds that a study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that 11% of 400 customers went on to need a surgical procedure – either because the drugs had not completed the abortion or because of excessive bleeding.
Needless to say, anti-abortion campaigners are already up in arms over this development. Journalists in Ireland will feel a strong sense of déjà vu. Those of us who were around in the 1980s spent a great deal of time on the “A-word” and now it could be a case of back to the future. Way back then, before the internet and cheap cross-channel air travel, it was a case of taking the mailboat to England which, whatever one’s moral stance on the issue, must have been pretty rough on a woman already several months pregnant.
Northern Ireland Family Planning Association director Audrey Simpson told the BBC: “The Women On Web site is very helpful and reputable. But for Northern Ireland women, it is encouraging them to break the law – and as an organisation, we have to work within the law. We’re really concerned about women accessing the rogue sites – we’re hearing about it and we know it’s happening. There are potentially serious medical complications for women from sites which aren’t well managed and this could be the new era of backstreet abortions.”
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times