Fewer Irish women travelling to UK for abortions, figures show
More than 1,400 purchased abortion pill online in 2018, rising by 13% on previous year
At present, about 319 general practitioners have signed up to provide the service with 10 out of 19 maternity units providing full abortion care. File photograph: Getty Images
Some 2,879 women gave addresses from within the State at abortion clinics in England and Wales in the 12 months leading up to Ireland’s legalisation of abortion in January of this year, down from 3,019 women in 2017, according to the latest data released by the UK department of health.
In contrast, the number of women availing of online abortion pills rose by more than 13 per cent in 2018, with 1,405 people buying the pill online, according to figures one abortion pill provider gave to the HSE.
Abortion up until 12 weeks’ gestation became legal across the Irish State on January 1st 2019. The legalisation of abortion services followed the May 2018 referendum which saw 66.4 per cent vote in favour of removing the Eighth Amendement to the Constitution. At present, about 319 general practitioners have signed up to provide the service with 10 out of 19 maternity units providing full abortion care.
Despite the introduction of Irish abortion care, the latest data from the UK, released through the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy programme, shows that 107 women from Ireland contacted one online abortion pill provider in the first three months of 2019.
All of these women were directed by the provider to contact the HSE’s My Options phone line which offers guidance and support on how to access a medically supervised abortion in Ireland. Some 43 of these women received “additional support” from the online pill provider, compared to 184 women during the same period in 2018.
Helen Deely, acting assistant national director of the HSE health and wellbeing, said the women who contacted the online abortion pill service may not have been aware that abortion services were now available free of charge in Ireland. She said the My Options resource had been established as “the first point of contact for women seeking information and support in relation to an unplanned pregnancy”.
“Professional and experienced counsellors provide information and support on all options, including abortion information and continued pregnancy supports,” said Ms Deely. “If a woman is in any way concerned about her health following an abortion, we encourage her to call the My Options service.”
A total of 1,405 women ordered the abortion pill from the online provider in 2018, up from 1,217 in 2017 and 1,172 in 2016. Nine seizures of 104 abortion pills were made in the first three months of 2019, according to the Health Products Regulatory Authority which works in conjunction with the Revenue Customs Service and An Garda Síochána to “monitor and investigate instances of illegal supply of medicinal products” via the internet.
Unlike other parts of the UK, the 1967 abortion act does not extend to Northern Ireland and as a result abortions are only permitted if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health. Abortion is not legal in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality.
New figures also show that more than 1,000 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England or Wales for abortions last year. In 2018, there were 1,053 abortions for women from Northern Ireland, an increase of 192 from 2017.
Imogen Stephens, Marie Stopes UK’s medical director described it as “shamefful” thjat “more than 1,000 women from Northern Ireland are still being forced to travel to England to access abortion care, including those who have become pregnant as a result of rape or incest or whose foetus has no chance of survival outside of the womb.”
The HSE My Options helpline has received more than 7,500 calls since it launched on January 1st while the website has been visited 122,000 times since December 2018. The phone line offers support and information in more than 240 language while interpreter services are also available. Sign language users are also provided for through a video-link and sign language interpreter.
The number of women travelling to the UK for abortion services has dropped by 57 per cent since 2001 when 6,673 women made the journey to clinics across the Irish sea. Small numbers of women have also travelled to the Netherlands for abortion services, with numbers peaking at 461 for Dutch services in 2006.
The My Options phone line is open from 9am-9pm Monday to Friday and 10am-2pm on Saturdays on 1800 828 010 (00 353 1 6877044 if calling from Northern Ireland).