Odds against migrant women trying to travel abroad for abortion

Delays can have big impact on health, says Irish Family Planning Association

 

For vulnerable women with travel restrictions, it’s not impossible to travel abroad to get an abortion.

But a complex array of legal and financial obstacles means that in practice only the most resilient and determined women end up exercising their constitutional right to travel.

Simply organising a visa or travel document is an elaborate challenge which involves navigating a labyrinthine application process.

For a start, asylum seekers or migrants need two travel visas: an entry visa to the country where they are seeking an abortion, and a re-entry visa to return to Ireland.

Applicants for these documents must queue in person at the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service office on Burgh Quay in Dublin. Appointments can’t be booked in advance.

Queues begin to form outside the building from as early as 11.30pm the night before to get one of the limited number of appointment tickets.

If the woman is undocumented and doesn’t have a passport, things get much more complicated. She must apply for a temporary travel document before she can apply for a re-entry visa.

Biometric

This must be applied for in person at the Department of Justice and involves completing a 12-page application for which biometric passport photographs are required.

The issuing of a re-entry visa normally takes five working days. But a temporary travel document can take up to eight weeks to be issued.

If these documents are obtained, the second – and often more complex – stage of travelling abroad begins.

An entry visa requires travel to the capital to submit documents in person to the British or Dutch embassies.

To apply for an entry visa, a woman must typically submit at least 12 pieces of documentation such as a clinic appointment, accommodation and flight tickets.

The UK is less likely to issue entry visas to women with temporary travel documents. Therefore most women with travel restrictions who seek an abortion try to travel to the Netherlands.

All these delays can have a significant impact on a woman’s physical and mental health, says the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), particularly where she has an underlying health condition.

Later abortions are also more expensive and invasive, says the association. In some cases, the legal time limits for the procedure may have passed.

Then there are the financial obstacles. Asylum seekers, for example, are prohibited from working and receive €19.10 a week in welfare support.

Financial costs

Yet a woman must pay for visas, journeys to and from meetings with counsellors and government officials in Dublin, as well as flights, abortion provider fees and accommodation.

An abortion procedure alone can cost €600 to €2,000, depending on the clinic and stage of gestation.

There is no financial assistance available from the State, and counselling organisations may not provide it either.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has insisted there is administrative support in place to assist women to avail of visas and travel documents.

But counsellors in the IFPA – one of the groups providing this support – say the law itself is outdated and can delay the process.

Under the 1995 Act which governs access to information on abortion, counsellors may only provide advice during face-to-face sessions.

Information may not be given by email or over the phone, and counsellors may not make arrangements for an abortion abroad on a woman’s behalf.

“The hardest part of a counsellor’s job is to explain to a woman, who already has so much stacked up against her, just how complex the process is,” says the IFPA’s counselling director Evelyn Geraghty.

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