The 10 or so Irish women who board flights to London or Liverpool or Amsterdam seeking abortions abroad every day are proof that even though terminations are illegal in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, they still happen. And today, a study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, confirms that abortions are actually taking place in Ireland regularly.
In fact, in the five years from 2010 to 2015, more than 5,600 women in Ireland and Northern Ireland went online and bought abortion pills before using them at home. The pills came via a supplier in the Netherlands, and a massive majority of women questioned after obtaining the pills said they were pleased with the service. Ninety-four per cent said they were “grateful” for the pill, a word that instantly suggests how bleak the options were for those women before they found the service. Seventy per cent said they had felt “relieved” afterwards; just 17 per cent said they felt “guilty”.
Restrictive abortion laws don’t mean abortion doesn’t happen; they just mean that women are more likely to encounter stigma or expensive travel costs or feelings of isolation and fear
It is striking that thousands of women ignore the law – abortion is illegal in most circumstances, as is procuring medication in this way – to access these services, and it proves that wherever abortion is illegal, there will be women taking chances, with their freedom and their health, to avail of terminations regardless. Restrictive abortion laws don’t mean abortion doesn’t happen; they just mean that women are more likely to encounter stigma or expensive travel costs or feelings of isolation and fear.
The use of abortion pills and at-home terminations are common in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland, of course) but they are overseen by medical professionals. If a woman experiences unusual pain or bleeding after taking the pill, she can call the clinic that administered it. She can ask for help without worrying about the fact that what she has done is illegal. The reality for women in Ireland and Northern Ireland is starkly different, and this was highlighted earlier this year when a Northern Irish woman was given a suspended jail sentence after being reported to the police by her housemates. The 21-year-old had had an at-home abortion after buying pills online, but when her housemates found bloody clothes in a bin, they went to the police and she was dragged through a humiliating and traumatising criminal trial.
Every day, Ireland and Northern Ireland export their abortion problems by sending women abroad to access routine medical procedures, and now it transpires that the two countries are also importing thousands of abortion pills a year.
This new information on the widespread use of abortion pills in the Republic of Ireland comes as a new committee, which will examine the country’s restrictive abortion laws, has been established. The committee will present its report on the eighth amendment (the piece of law that ensures abortion is illegal in Ireland) to the Irish parliament next year. Pro-choice campaigners want the amendment repealed.