Pro-choice group calls for regulation of abortion pills

Together for Yes claims ‘at least two women a day in Ireland are taking an abortion pill in secrecy’

Ailbhe Smyth, centre,  at a Together for Yes press conference in Dublin with Dr Cliona Murphy, left,  and Dr Aoife Mullally. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Ailbhe Smyth, centre, at a Together for Yes press conference in Dublin with Dr Cliona Murphy, left, and Dr Aoife Mullally. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Together for Yes campaign, which supports repeal of the Eighth Amendment, has called for regulation of abortion pills in Ireland as figures show a 190 per cent increase in their use last year.

The figures are from one of two main online providers, Women Help Women, which also indicated that at least two women a day in Ireland were taking abortion pills illegally in the secrecy of their homes.

The organisation, which provides access online to abortion pills for women in countries where legal abortion services are not available, said 878 women used its services last year and in the first three months of 2018 it helped 323 women access a medical abortion – through pills – a 90 per cent increase over the same period last year.

Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Cliona Murphy said removing the Eighth Amendment and regulating the use of abortion pills would address the vast majority of cases of women going abroad to access abortion.

Cumbersome procedure

Speaking at the launch of a policy document on the regulation of early pregnancy termination, Dr Murphy, consultant at the Coombe and Tallaght hospitals, said the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was a cumbersome procedure where the woman had no role.

“In my experience her voice isn’t heard,” she said. “The risks to her life or health are discussed but her actual voice is not really heard. In no other area of medicine is this acceptable. In no other area of medicine do we pass judgment like this.”

Dr Murphy said that “as a doctor I’ve found it very hard to look these women in the eye and say I cannot help. I’ve been ashamed to be a doctor practising in this country. This is the reality. The Eighth Amendment is punitive to women.”

Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Aoife Mullally said many online providers of abortion pills “are illegal. The medication may not contain what the woman thinks it does,” and “ women often take the medication in significantly higher doses than they should because they are so desperate for it to work”.

Dr Mullally, a consultant at the Midlands Regional Hospital and the Coombe, said, “I have cared for women who have delayed accessing care after taking unsupervised medication. They then present with a failed abortion at an advanced stage and spend their entire pregnancy terrified that their baby may be born with awful health complications as a result.”

She added that the complications of taking abortion pills without supervision “include heavy bleeding, retained pregnancy tissue, infection, ongoing pregnancy and the psychological stress of taking a medication and undergoing a medical procedure without medical backup”.

Asked about divisions over the proposed 12-week time limit for access to abortion, Dr Murphy said people who were not comfortable with 12 weeks were “probably not comfortable with any termination of pregnancy at all”.

“If you look across Europe most of the legislation involves termination up to 12 weeks because that is the first trimester.” She said it was not a “magical cut-off but we know that medical termination is safe for women up to around that time”.

Together for Yes campaign co-director Ailbhe Smyth said the campaign had to date raised €360,601 in a crowdfunding online poster campaign which started on Tuesday morning with the aim of raising €50,000.

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