Figures published by the UK Department of Health and Social Care show a significant decline in the number of women travelling from Ireland to England and Wales for abortion care in 2019. A report on abortion figures published on June 11th illustrates an 87% decrease in those travelling from Ireland for abortions – from 2,879 in 2018 to 375 in 2019. This comes after laws repealing the eighth amendment of the constitution came into effect on 20th December 2018.
Groups from both pro-life and pro-choice campaigns have spoken out on these recently published figures.
Cathie Shiels from the Abortion Rights Campaign said: “We have heard heart breaking stories from those who believed they were entitled to a legal abortion in Ireland being forced to travel. Our new law puts doctors in the position of making impossible distinctions between ‘fatal’ and all other severe, complex, or life-threatening foetal abnormalities.”
The current law in Ireland permits an abortion to be carried out in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and in later cases where a woman’s life or health is at risk, or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
Mara Clarke is the founder of the Abortion Support Network. She explained that, “the people we hear from are increasingly marginalised and at risk, and require higher levels of funding and support than in past years.” The Network has seen the average funding required per person almost double last year – to £621 per person in 2019 from £375 per person in 2018.
Clarke also stressed that there are many people who “fall through the cracks” and are unaware of the funding and care supports that organisations such as Abortion Support Network provide. “We think even one person having to travel for care is one too many, while also believing there are many people who have needed to travel who have been forced to continue unwanted pregnancies.”
Ireland’s pro-life campaign groups have also commented on the latest abortion figures. Maeve O’Halloran, a spokesperson for the Pro-Life Campaign, noted that the impact of Ireland’s new abortion laws will only become clear when the UK’s figures are added to the number of abortions that took place in this country in 2019. “Irrespective of what these soon to be released figures reveal, we already know that for the first time in our history thousands of unborn babies have had their lives ended in this country with the full backing of the law. It doesn’t matter how it is packaged or presented, there’s nothing progressive about such a sad and troubling development.”
O’Halloran also mentioned that the number of abortions taking place in Ireland could be reduced “if the political will existed to engage with those who have valuable contributions to make on how best to create a more welcoming society for expectant mothers and their unborn babies.”
A Mutual Goal At UCD
This “political will” alluded to by O’Halloran extends to UCD’s campus politics. The College Tribune has learned that Life Society UCD, an unofficial student society, has agreed with the UCD Students’ Union to work towards a mandate for them to pursue improved parental supports on campus. Speaking of the discussions, outgoing UCDSU President Joanna Siewierska told The College Tribune, “we discussed ways for UCD to improve support for student parents, and how the SU could lobby for this, similarly to how we support other groups of students. For example, campaigning for an affordable creche facility on campus and designated supports.” These talks have been postponed due to the closure of campus from COVID-19. The groups plan to engage in further discussions in the coming academic year.
The report on abortion figures cited in this article was published in a time of already high tensions amongst pro-life campaigners, as the COVID-19 restrictions saw emergency changes being made to abortion services in Ireland. The revised model of care issued by the Department of Health provides for a remote consultation with a medical practitioner for the purposes of accessing an abortion.
Speaking to RTÉ, Pro Life Campaign spokesperson Eilis Mulroy described the new healthcare provisions as “utterly reckless”. However, the HSE has warned that the legislation has not been changed and that this is simply an interim model of care for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
Blathnaid Corless – Assistant News Editor