You may well have read recently that each day nine women travel from Ireland to clinics in England and Wales to access abortion services; whilst this number is correct, it does not fully account for the total number of abortions in Ireland.
Each day, nine women officially register as travelling from Ireland to England or Wales for an abortion, we don’t know how many women self-administer medical abortion or use unsafe methods, but this is probably at least another three each day. Women on Web suggest this may be as high as five, so a total of 14 each day.
In 2016 a total of 3,265 women (nine per day) who had an abortion in England or Wales registered as resident in Ireland, very close to the 1980 total of 3,320. The number has been higher in intervening years and reached a high of 6,673 in 2001, an average of 18 per day.
Does this mean that the total annual number of abortions in Ireland has reduced over the last 15 years? I don’t think so. I’m not aware of any interventions or related changes which might have caused a 50% drop. I suspect that the total number today is much the same as it was in 2001.
So what has changed? Perhaps:
- An increasing number of women in Ireland are accessing abortion medication online or from contacts abroad and self-administering at home, and thus not appearing in any official registration data;
- Some may travel to England or Wales but do not register as being resident in Ireland;
- Some may still be inducing their abortion using unsafe methods, and I hope that this number is very small and will become a historical factor after the referendum this month.
Assuming that the referendum vote on May 25 is in favour of a change, it will be very interesting to see how the Irish government shape and implement the delivery of abortion services. I hope that those given this responsibility will be willing to take advantage of recent clinical research and pilots of new service delivery models. I hope that they don’t take the easy approach of replicating existing service models in eg England.