At least 775 women travelled abroad for abortion since repealing of 8th Amendment five years ago

Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland.

Conor Feehan

More than 775 women have travelled abroad for pregnancy terminations in the last five years despite the repealing of the 8th Amendment making abortion available here, the National Women’s Council has said.

It says that five-years-on from the abortion referendum there are still systemic barriers to services and more than 40pc of maternity hospitals are not providing abortion care.

“Five years ago, the people of Ireland voted for compassionate reproductive healthcare at home. Government was given a clear mandate to provide access to abortion, particularly in the devastating scenarios of a fatal foetal anomaly,” said NWC Director Orla O’Connor.

“While many women have been able to access this care since 2019 and this is applauded, there are too many women and pregnant people who still don’t have access due to systemic barriers, particularly the most marginalised. Our restrictive legal framework, coupled with the postcode lottery of abortion services, is unacceptable.”

“Repealing the 8th didn’t mean abortion access only for some women and not others – the provision of abortion services needs to be consistent and equitable,” she added.

The barriers that the NWC say need to be addressed include the criminalisation of abortion care after 12 weeks, whereby health professionals can be prosecuted for providing abortion after this limit except in strict circumstances; the mandatory three-day waiting period to access an abortion, and inconsistent provision of abortion services nationwide whereby eight out of 19 maternity hospitals are not providing abortion care in line with the law.

“In relation to the 775 people who have travelled abroad for abortions since services became available here, they’re the ones that we know that have given their addresses in Ireland. We always know that would probably be an underestimation.

"The medical providers are telling us the main reasons that they are travelling is the narrowness of the 12 week (limit) is causing a problem, particularly if you’ve missed a period you're straight into your eight weeks, and then you've got your three-day wait period. We've also got problems in terms of the coverage around the country. So when all of that builds up, people get very, very close to the 12 weeks limit, then they go over it, and then they travel. That's part of the issue,” said Ms O’Connor.

“And then the other reason is for couples (with a fatal foetal anomaly diagnosis), and we're really hearing heart breaking stories from couples, where the doctors have to predict that the foetus will die within 28 days of foetal anomaly, and doctors are saying that that is just too rigid. They can't say exactly what day the foetus might die, so couples are still traveling with fatal foetal anomaly.”

“We're really saying in terms of the Government's review, that they need to be following the World Health Organisation's guidelines that have been issued for all countries since Repeal which talk about removing the mandatory waiting periods because there’s no medical reason for them, and also to remove the gestation limits of the 12 weeks, the criminalisation of abortion care after 12 weeks,” she added.

In relation to the lack of services in eight out of 19 hospitals, Ms O’Connor said this is having an adverse effect on the more marginalised in society like migrant women who may not know the system here well.

“By the time they actually get to a GP it can be too late, and then it's about trying to find a hospital and it just all gets too late. So it's more vulnerable women who really seem to be losing out,” she said.

Today the NWC launched an ‘e-action campaign’ to enable the public to write to their local politicians urging for cross-party political commitment to reform.

The campaign, which is available on the organisation’s website, is a pre-worded email that people can send to their local representatives whose contacts are accessed via drop-down menus.

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