What is the situation with abortion in Ireland?

Orders for pills to end pregancy rise as number going to UK for terminations drops

TDs and Senators vote by 14-6 in favour of removing the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution.


Current abortion regime in Ireland

Abortion is currently illegal in Ireland except in situations where a pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the mother, including suicidal ideation.

Of the 25 legal terminations performed in Ireland last year, only one was on the basis of suicidality. Just seven terminations were carried out between 2014 and 2016 under the grounds of suicidal ideation as included in the 2013 Act.

Ireland’s regime has led to a situation where most women seeking an abortion choose to avail of the procedure in another jurisdiction, usually the UK, or order abortion pills which are proscribed under Irish law.

The number of Irish women attending UK abortion clinics has fallen from almost 8,000 in 2002 to just under 4,000 last year in line with an increase in the number of abortifacients being ordered to the State.

The Women on Web service, which is one of a number of outlets offering to deliver abortion pills to Irish women, has experienced more than a tripling in orders from 548 in 2010 to 1,748 in 2016.

Mail-order abortifacients can be intercepted by the Health Products Regulatory Authority. More than 2,500 were seized between 2014 and 2016, according to latest figures.

International comparisons

Most continental European countries allow for abortion up to a period of around 12 weeks’ gestation, although there are some outliers.

Portugal has the lowest gestational limit at 10 weeks, while the UK allows for abortion anywhere up to 24 weeks.

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) estimates that up to 90 per cent of Irish women who travel to the UK for an abortion are less than 12 weeks pregnant.

The majority of abortions in the UK under 12 weeks are performed using medication, while many procedures after the 12-week mark are carried out surgically.

In the UK, abortion clinics women take a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol either orally or vaginally and usually over a period of between 24 and 48 hours, although the interval may be as short as six hours. The initial dosage is administered in the clinic with the follow-up pill taken by the patient themselves, and women typically do not avail of any aftercare treatment.

What a changed regime may look like

Members of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment have largely upheld the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on abortion by voting in favour of unrestricted access to terminations in the State up to 12 weeks’ gestation, with a sizeable majority of TDs and Senators also supporting the extension of abortion access to cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities.

According to IFPA chief executive Niall Behan, if those recommendations were to be made law, most abortions would probably be carried out medically rather than surgically, given the notional 12-week limit. Medical procedures would likely be performed by GPs as opposed to specialists such as gynaecologists or obstetricians, he added.