Abortion in Ireland: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Stephanie Lord puts the smackdown on Irish anti-choicers:

Annually for the past nine years, the UK Department of Health have issued statistics showing a decline in the numbers of women giving Irish addresses when accessing abortion services in Britain . The 2010 figures, released earlier this week, revealed that 4,402 women gave Irish addresses to British clinics when they accessed abortion services – 12 women for every day that year. Doctor Stephanie O’Keeffe, the Acting Director of Ireland’s Crisis Pregnancy Program, praised the figures, saying that “The numbers are actually very low by international standards. We have been bucking the trend compared to other countries, where abortion numbers and rates have been increasing.” In fact, the 2010 figure represents a drop of just 20 on the previous year – a decline of 0.5%. This is hardly remarkable given the scale of the numbers and considering the level of emigration out of Ireland since the onset of the recession; it’s very possible that were it not for emigration the figure could be much higher. Actually, were it not for the drastic drop in income in Ireland, the figures may have been higher again. Travelling outside of the country to get an abortion is not something that can be done on the cheap.

Yeah, that’s the risk in tracking public health trends in terms of raw numbers, rather than as percentages of population. You’re likely to get schooled.

The issuing of the figures heralds the annual gloating from the anti-choice movement who believe that it shows a reduction in the number of Irish women having abortions. Of course, it demonstrates nothing of the sort. The figures are in no way an adequate reflection of the actual number of women having abortions. Those collected by the UK Department of Health do not include the numbers of Irish women who give false British addresses in order to protect their anonymity, or those who travel further afield to access abortion services. Neither do they include the number of women who procure the abortion pill by purchasing it over the internet (in 2010, a Choice Ireland Freedom of Information request revealed that Irish Customs authorities had seized 1,216 packs of abortion pills the previous year which had been ordered online), or from shops where, if you know the right people, you can buy it easily over the counter. Furthermore, the figures do not indicate the number of women who, in the absence of any other choice, opt for backstreet abortions. The idea that the number of women travelling to Britain for abortions is the sum total of Irish women actually having abortions would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. The reality of the situation for women in Ireland is much more disturbing.

Given that Ireland’s policy on induced abortion is that it’s fine to have one if you can afford a quick trip to Great Britain, but no, you can’t do it in Ireland, it really shouldn’t be surprising that the Irish authorities have such shoddy numbers on the numbers of women terminating their pregnancies. With the current status quo, the only way the authorities have to count Irish women seeking abortions is to count up the number of Irish addresses given at UK health facilities.

With that in mind, the ways for Irish women to have induced abortions are as follows:

  • Go to Great Britain and give an Irish address.
  • Go to Great Britain and give a British address.
  • Order pills online.
  • Go to a shop and ask the right person to get you the pills over the counter.
  • Find some shady character to sort you out and hope for the best.

Meanwhile, there are increasing numbers of people moving out of Ireland due to the crappy economy, and those who stay tend to be losing income, which means far fewer Irish people who can afford to take a few days off work and take the boat to England. With all that going on, Dr. O’Keeffe is all pleased to see a 0.5% drop in the absolute number of women—not as a percentage of resident Irish population, and not controlling for income level—using the most expensive and transparent option for abortion services. Really, Dr. O’Keeffe? Really?

They would probably have much more reliable numbers on abortion rates if they…made it legal for women to have abortions in Ireland. It’s so much easier to keep track of people doing stuff that they don’t need to hide from the law.

1 thought on “Abortion in Ireland: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

  1. Pingback: Abortion in Ireland – Government continues to treat women as 2nd class citizens.

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