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Ireland still does not have the women-centred abortion service people voted for

Published: Thursday, December 19, 2019

As the first year of legal abortion provision for women in Ireland comes to a close, the Abortion Working Group, chaired by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) and made up of 23 groups working together to ensure safe access to abortion, today raised urgent concerns about the current state of local services, and a lack of leadership.

Orla O’Connor, Chair of the Abortion Working Group and Director of NWCI said,

“As 2019 draws to a close, the Abortion Working Group is calling for urgent action to address the lack of leadership and accountability for the provision of abortion services – we cannot see a situation continue whereby willing providers are struggling to provide an abortion service due to a lack of leadership and institutional support. As things stand, the Clinical Lead for Abortion Care services is still not in place. Their leadership will be vital to drive service developments and ensure quality care, particularly in the hospital sector where progress seems particularly slow. Education and training is also needed to support new providers and to create a women-centered culture of care. We have to achieve an equitable geographic service so that women in all areas of the country have access to primary and secondary abortion services.”

Anna Carnegie, Co-Convener of the Abortion Rights Campaign said,

“Abortion is now legal in Ireland and the health service should be organising services to ensure access to care locally. Yet almost 12 months in, significant problems persist. We continue to see deliberately intimidating anti-abortion activity outside healthcare clinics. In numerous cases, people must still travel within Ireland to access abortion services as almost half of maternity units are failing to provide them. Others continue to have to travel abroad, because for example they fall outside the strict 12-week limit, or because they have received a diagnosis of foetal anomaly.”

Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment said,

“We need urgent action to address the lack of local abortion services. One issue is the Government’s failure to legislate for safety zones to protect patients and staff from anti-abortion activity outside healthcare facilities. A commitment was made to provide for safe access zones, but Government still has not even published legislation. Yet local access goes broader than this. Operational issues and /or refusal of care are hindering the roll-out of services in almost half of Ireland’s maternity units but there seems to be no sanction or deadline in place for these non-providing hospitals.  The absence of an abortion service in maternity units also seriously impacts GP provision. Without a hospital to refer to when necessary it is hard for GPs to provide abortion in the community. We commend the almost 350 GPs nationally (approximately 10% of all GPs) who are providing medical abortion in primary care, but we do not have coverage in every county, and in counties with a small number of providers, pregnant people may have to wait for an appointment. This is unacceptable given the narrow 12-week restriction for abortion on request. Women should not have to travel large distances within Ireland to access abortion, particularly as many cannot travel for reasons including financial costs, caring responsibilities, health issues, precarious employment or controlling partners.”

Speaking of the failure to introduce safety zone legislation, Liam Herrick, Director of Irish Council of Civil Liberties said,

“Reports of demonstrations designed to intimidate, harass, distress and stigmatise are of significant concern and are no doubt reaching the people they target. It is extremely likely these activities are preventing women and pregnant people from accessing the healthcare they need in safety, privacy, dignity, and in Ireland - not least because it is deterring health care providers from opting in. We voted for safe, private, accessible and dignified healthcare at home, and government must ensure this by creating safe zones immediately.”

Ends /

For more information, please contact Sarah Clarkin, Communications and Social Media Officer, NWCI, 085 8619087.

Notes to the Editor:

The Abortion Working Group, chaired by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), was established in early 2019 to provide a space for information sharing and collective advocacy for groups working on the issue of access to abortion in Ireland. The group is working together to monitor the continued roll out and strengthening of abortion care services and will advocate where necessary for resources, changes and improvements and further service development. The group is working towards the 3-year review of Ireland’s abortion legislation and will advocate for a women-centred, human rights-focused review process.

Abortion Working Group members: Abortion Rights Campaign; Abortion Support Network; Alliance for Choice; Amnesty Ireland; BelongTo; Cairde; Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment; Disabled Women Ireland; Doctors for Choice; Dublin Well Woman Centre; Gynaecology & Obstetrics Women’s Network (GOWN); Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL); Inclusion Ireland; Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA); Lawyers for Choice; National Collective of Community Based Women’s Networks (NCCWN); National Traveller Women's Forum; National Women’s Council of Ireland; Start Group; Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI); Termination for Medical Reasons; Women’s Aid; Union of Students in Ireland (USI).