Dozens of migrant women unable to travel for abortions

Counselling organisation says figures show ‘insurmountable’ obstacles faced by women

Dozens of migrant women living in Ireland are unable to access abortions abroad as a result of "insurmountable" travel and legal obstacles, new figures indicate.

The issue was the source of public controversy earlier this year when Ms Y – a young asylum seeker – unsuccessfully sought an abortion after arriving in Ireland pregnant as a result of alleged rape.

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) says over the past 12 months 26 asylum seekers or women with travel restrictions accessed its counselling services and indicated they wanted an abortion. But they were unable to travel abroad to access a termination.

The association said these migrant women faced “insurmountable” obstacles such as trying to find money to travel abroad or arrange travel documentation to leave and re-enter the country.

Of the migrant women it saw who were unable to travel abroad, at least five continued with their pregnancy and parented against their wishes. Four more said they sought or took medication to self-induce an abortion.

The remaining women did not return to the IFPA's services. The association said that, apart from providing as much information and counselling as legally possible, it could do no more to assist these women in accessing abortion services.

The figures are based on an audit of the association’s counselling services during the 12-month period prior to September 2014.

Evelyn Geraghty, the association’s counselling director, said women who face major travel obstacles form an increasing proportion of the organisation’s client base.

“They also include women in poverty or on low income, young women, women with disabilities, women in State care, women experiencing domestic violence and women with travel restrictions,” she said.

“While the Constitution guarantees the right to travel for abortion, these women cannot exercise this right due to an array of legal, social and economic barriers.”

Mental health

She said the cost of an abortion can range from between €600 and €2,000, not including travel or accommodation costs.

In addition, travel documentation for migrants – such as visas, temporary travel documents and re-entry visas – can take up to eight weeks to arrange and cost up to €200.

Ms Geraghty said these kinds of financial obstacles were impossible barriers for many asylum seekers – particularly those living outside the Dublin area – who are entitled to no more than a weekly allowance of €19.10 a week.

There is no financial assistance available from the State. Some support for flights and accommodation may be available from the Abortion Support Network, a UK based voluntary group.

“These delays and obstacles have a significant impact on a woman’s physical and mental health, particularly where a woman has an underlying health condition,” she said.

“Later abortions are also more expensive and invasive. In some cases, the legal time limits for the procedure may have passed. And of course, there is no guarantee that the documentation will be issued.

In the IFPA’s experience, 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.

Niall Behan, the association’s chief executive, said that counsellors are restricted in what support they can give to vulnerable women seeking abortion services under Irish law.

The association has raised concerns with UN’s human rights committee and expressed concerns over these “restrictive laws” to the Government.

“We will continue to highlight the need for legal change and the impact of the criminalisation of abortion on our clients until all women in Ireland have access to their full reproductive rights,” he said.