100's of women have medical abortions in republic but what of those who can't?

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Anti-choice bigots are going into a frenzy to try and prevent the Irish government legislating for abortion provision in the republic as required by the X and C judgements. But they are ignoring the reality that 1000 plus women are already obtaining abortions in the republic every year and are simply making that decision for themselves. The bigots 'keep Ireland abortion free' crusade was fake even before the opening of Marie Stopes in Belfast, the false slogan is presumably designed to fool the US donors whose donations the bigots salaries and offices depend on. But it is having tragic consequences for women in Ireland as those unable to access abortion pills are left without access to abortion.

The possibility of medically induced abortion where termination is initiated through the taking of a pill started with the development of Mifepristone, first known as RU-486 and now sold as Mifegyne, Zacafemyl and Mifeprex. After clinical trails during the late 1980's it started to become available in the 1990's. It is not known when the first women used the pill to induce a termination in Ireland and it is not known today how many women are doing so every year. But the UK Department of Health releases statistics that include the number of women from Ireland accessing abortion in clinics in England & Wales. After consistently rising for the 21 years from 1980 to 2001 to 6,522 in 2001 they have fallen rapidly since, the period in which 'abortion pills' became easier and easier to obtain online. By 2011 the number had fallen to 4,149, a 36% drop.

Some of that 2,373 drop may be due to other factors including improvements in sex education, access to contraception and the empowerment of women. However most of the major gains in each of these areas was won in the period from the 1970s to 2000.  In 2009 customs reported they had stolen 1216 tablets in packages coming into Ireland. This must have left many women in terrible situations, as in each case there would have been women waiting to terminate their unwanted pregnancies within the first 9 weeks of pregnancy limit that the pills have to used in. What happened to those women who were anxiously wondering why their package hadn't arrived?  We don't know - they are additional victim's of the Irish state's cruel experiment.

A survey of GP's showed that 37 ( over 10% of those surveyed) reported "knowledge of female patients who had taken an illegal abortifacient." In short it is an open secret that large numbers of women are now obtaining abortions in the Irish republic despite the refusal of successive governments to legislate for abortion provision.

The abortion pills should be taken under medical supervision but the combined effect of the laws against abortion in Ireland and the campaigns aimed at shaming women who have had abortions means this rarely happens. When supervised Mifepristone is as safe or safer than Asprin or Viagra and considerably safer than giving birth (according to a 2008 US study published after 850,000 women had used it).  What the risks are when taking it unsupervised are unknown because no one would be crazy enough to run such an experiment on women - except the Irish state.

Greater dangers may be present because women cannot obtain the pills legally in the republic and so are forced to order it online, often after doing no more than googling "mifepristone, cytotec, RU486, misoprostol". At the time of writing that search returns 266,000 results, many of them dodgy looking online 'pharmacies'. One reputable source that is available for women in Ireland seeking a medical abortion is the Women on Web website, a feminist campaigning organisation that has been supplying pills to women in countries where legal abortions cannot be obtained.

The downside
We welcome the fact that the availability of medical abortion had enabled 100's if not 1000's of Irish women to obtain abortions in Ireland - despite the laws and the efforts of the bigots to prevent them doing so. This availability has saved many from making the expensive and often stressful trip to Britain for an abortion. It also means that these women have been able to obtain an abortion earlier than they would otherwise. But it is no substitute for safe, legal and free abortion being available in Ireland, including surgical abortion for those unable to access medical abortion within the first 9 weeks of pregnancy.  This is what women need, not just the extremely limited abortion provision that is required by the X and C judgements.

The problem with the current situation is that it is women in the most difficult circumstances, including migrant women who are refused travel documents, who may be trapped by the lack of abortion access legislation. Such women may not have the connections to access medial abortion pills in the first 9 weeks of pregnancy and face huge difficulties finding the funds to cover the substantial cost of travelling abroad for an abortion. The Irish government is continuing to put these women at risk in its refusal to legislate for abortion access in this country.

WORDS:Andrew Flood

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