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NWC calls for improved abortion care ahead of three-year Government Review

Published: Tuesday, May 25, 2021

“I took abortion pills in Ireland which didn’t work and then I was 13 weeks so my GP said I have to go to England. The costs will be way more than I can afford so I was hoping you can help me. My passport expired so I have been waiting for the new one and I am now 16 weeks.” Quote of woman travelling to the UK for an abortion provided by the Abortion Support Network

Marking the 3rd anniversary of the Referendum on the 8th Amendment, the National Women’s Council (NWC) today launched a new research paper 'Accessing Abortion in Ireland: Meeting the Needs of Every Woman'.

The paper explores the experiences of women, pregnant people and healthcare professionals of abortion services in Ireland since their introduction in 2019. Ahead of the upcoming review of the current abortion legislation, it outlines NWC’s recommendations for policy and legal changes.

The report highlights ongoing barriers and obstacles for women and pregnant people to access abortion care in Ireland.

At least one woman or pregnant person a day is travelling to the UK for an abortion according to the latest available figures from 2019. The majority of these abortions are later term abortions.
Only 1 in 10 GPs are providing abortion services in Ireland. Although GPs who provide early medical abortions are very committed, coverage remains a significant barrier to accessing abortion.
Only just over half of maternity hospitals provide abortion services.
Women in rural areas and from marginalised backgrounds face extra challenges in accessing abortion care.
Access also remains particularly difficult for women and pregnant people facing the devastating news that their baby has a severe or fatal foetal anomaly.

Speakers at the launch event included:

Orla O’Connor, Director, NWC, Dr Sinead Kennedy, Maynooth University and Coalition to Repeal the 8th, Nem Kearns, Disabled Women Ireland, Dr Mary Favier, Founding Member of Doctors for Choice and current Co-Chair of Global Doctors for Choice, Ailbhe Smyth, former Co-Director, Together for Yes, Claire Cullen Delsol, Terminations for Medical Reasons, Sasha Terfous, Spoken Word Artist who performed a number of testimonies of women and pregnant people who travelled to the UK for abortions. These stories were provided by the Abortion Support Network)

Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council said,

“The introduction of abortion care in Ireland in 2019 was a historic moment for women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. We welcome that many women and pregnant people who need abortions can now finally access this care in their own country. However, our research clearly highlights that there are ongoing obstacles and legal barriers forcing at least one person a day to travel abroad.

We urgently need better availability of abortion care throughout Ireland. This must include nationwide coverage of abortion services in primary care settings and all maternity hospitals. We also must ensure that conscientious objection can never prevent women and pregnant people from accessing urgent healthcare.”

She continued,

“NWC is also calling for important legislative changes, including an extension to the 12-week limit, an end to the 3-day waiting period and to the criminalisation of abortion. Abortion care, like all aspects of health care, should be decided in the context of a trusting and supportive doctor-patient relationship, whereby medical needs are met in line with clinical best practice and patient preferences.”

She concluded,

“The upcoming Review of the Termination of Pregnancy Act is an essential opportunity to take stock and address the barriers. We call on the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, and his Department to honour the commitment to an external review – as promised by former Minister for Health, Simon Harris and guarantee a process that is independent, women-centred, transparent and inclusive.”

Dr Sinead Kennedy, Maynooth University and Coalition to Repeal the 8th who conducted the research on behalf of NWC said,

 “The current abortion legislation instead of ensuring access for women and pregnant people creates a series of obstacles at every stage. These barriers always disproportionately affect the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of our society.

The ability to obtain abortion care without delay is critically important yet the three-day waiting period along with uneven geographical provision of community and hospital-based abortion services creates barriers to accessing care in a timely manner. The lack of abortion provision after 12 weeks is a serious concern coupled with the fact that at least 375 women were forced travel in 2019.

The decision to criminalise medical professionals continues to create a chilling effect among doctors. The unnecessarily restrictive nature of the legislation means that many women and couples facing a diagnosis of fatal foetal anomaly continue to be denied treatment in Ireland. These are complex pregnancies that should be decided through doctor-patient consultations and clinical best practice. Rather than continuing to force these families to travel under heart-breaking condition because they fall outside the narrow legal framework, we need to provide the necessary healthcare here in Ireland.”

Full version of the research paper ‘Accessing Abortion in Ireland - Meeting the Needs of Every Woman’ 

NWC would like to thank the Centre for Reproductive Rights for funding the research paper.


For more information or to organise an interview with one of the speakers, please contact Silke Paasche, Head of Communications, Tel. 085 858 9104.