Only one in 10 GPs in State provide abortion services, study shows

Coverage a barrier to accessing services in rural and marginalised areas, study finds

National Women’s Council director Orla O’Connor said the research highlighted ongoing obstacles and legal barriers were “forcing at least one person a day to travel abroad”. Photograph: Alan Betson

National Women’s Council director Orla O’Connor said the research highlighted ongoing obstacles and legal barriers were “forcing at least one person a day to travel abroad”. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Only one in 10 GPs in the State provide abortion services, according to a paper published by the National Women’s Council.

While GPs providing early medical abortions are “very committed”, coverage remains a significant barrier to accessing services in rural areas and in marginalised communities, it states.

The council published the research paper – Accessing Abortion in Ireland: Meeting the Needs of Every Woman – to mark the third anniversary of the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment. It explores the experiences of women and health professionals of Irish abortion services since their introduction.

The paper says that 373 GPs had, as of April 2020, signed contracts with the Health Service Executive to provide early medical abortions. Medical professionals who took part in its research suggested this has increased to 385. The Irish College of General Practitioners estimates that 3,496 GPs are actively practising in Ireland.

Just over half of maternity hospitals provide abortion services, the paper says, while women in rural areas and from marginalised backgrounds face extra challenges in accessing abortion care. Access also remains particularly difficult for women whose baby has a severe or fatal foetal anomaly.

Statistics published by the UK department of health and social care show that 375 women travelled from Ireland to England and Wales for abortions in 2019, with a majority seeking care in the second trimester.

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council, said the research “clearly highlights” ongoing obstacles and legal barriers are “forcing at least one person a day to travel abroad”.

She said “better availability of abortion care” was needed throughout Ireland and the State must ensure “that conscientious objection can never prevent women and pregnant people from accessing urgent healthcare”.

Ms O’Connor called for an “extension to the 12-week limit, an end to the three-day waiting period and to the criminalisation of abortion” to be considered in the upcoming review of the Termination of Pregnancy Act, which was an opportunity “to take stock and address the barriers”.

Disproportionate effect

Dr Sinéad Kennedy, of Maynooth University and the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth, who conducted the research, said barriers to accessing abortion care “always disproportionately affect the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of our society”.

Black, Asian and Chinese women with Irish addresses are significantly represented (almost 9 per cent) in the numbers travelling to Britain for abortions, the report states.

The Pro-Life Campaign described the third anniversary of the referendum as “as a very sad occasion given the thousands of lives of unborn babies that have been ended since the new law took effect”.

“In the pro-life movement, we regard what has happened as an absolute betrayal of women and their unborn babies, but we are realistic enough to know that it’s going to take time to get the word out about the reality of what the new law really involves,” campaign spokeswoman Eilís Mulroy said.

“We are confident, however, that once people realise the truth of what’s happening, they will start to question the new law and look for answers from the politicians who misled them into thinking things would be very different.”