Almost 700 abortion pills have been seized by Irish authorities over the past 3½ years, despite the legalisation of the termination of pregnancy in the Republic during that time.
The number of seizures year-on-year has decreased over the past decade, however, the figures show. The pills, misoprostol and mifepristone, are taken by women to induce an early term abortion.
According to the Health Product Regulatory Authority (HPRA), 42 abortion tablets were confiscated between January and July of this year, all of which contained misoprostol.
In 2021, a total of 89 tablets were seized, of which 84 contained misoprostol and five contained mifepristone. The figure is down from 277 in 2020, and 288 in 2019, the vast majority of which contained misoprostol.
Under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, there is a three-day waiting period for a woman seeking an abortion, which can be performed up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
Beyond that, terminations can only be carried out if there is a threat to life or health of the mother or if healthcare professionals believe the foetus is likely to die before or within 28 days of birth.
Alana Ryan, women’s health co-ordinator at the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said there is a need to remove the time limit around abortion, and follow guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
WHO’s guidelines state that abortion by consumption of pills after 12 weeks should take place with medical supervision.
“It’s very easy for people to fall outside the 12 week limit and they are not eligible for care in the vast majority of cases, except in the case of fatal foetal anomaly or there’s a risk for those health,” she said.
“In those circumstances, you can see how these rigid, time-bound legal frameworks can push women and pregnant people into taking pills they have ordered online without the support or oversight of those with medical expertise; that’s a risk to their health and it’s a cause of deep shame that we are still seeing women being pushed into this position because of our legal framework.”
Ms Ryan added that this situation represents “a denial of healthcare”.
A recent report found abortion legislation in Ireland “falls short” of women’s needs, creating anguish and shame, and causes a “chilling” effect on clinicians who can face criminal sanctions for breaching the regulations.
The study, Unplanned Pregnancy and Abortion Care (UnPAC), conducted by Trinity College Dublin for the HSE, found that just over half of HSE hospitals were offering terminations of pregnancy.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly recently told The Irish Times that “wider provision” of abortion services is needed in the State.
A review of the operation of the State’s abortion laws is under way and expected to be completed this autumn.
The number of abortions reported to the Department of Health last year fell to 4,577, some 2,000 fewer than in 2020, according to official figures, though some sources questioned the accuracy of reporting during the pandemic.