There’s increasing debate about the lack of official provision of abortion services across Northern Ireland, with concerns being raised that women are risking their health and safety by turning to the backstreets.
I think the rhetoric around ‘backstreet’ abortion is flawed. It is more likely that when official abortion services are not being provided, or are not accessible, women don’t turn to the backstreet but to the internet.
Abortion moves out of the clinic, not into the backstreet, but into the bathroom.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the NI Minister of Health are both right to be concerned about unregulated and DIY abortions.
I don’t think there’s much difference in the quality of care provided online by e.g. Women on Web compared to the care provided by e.g. BPAS and MSUK through telemedicine and pills-by-post across other parts of the UK.
The abortion medications which each of these provider organisations send to their clients are the same, as is the guidance on how a woman should self-manage her abortion, which is sometimes likened to a natural miscarriage:
- Don’t look.
In the press.
On October 28th, Maya Oppenheim wrote a piece in The Independent about the lack of official provision of abortion services across Northern Ireland. She opens with:
Women have been forced to turn to backstreet abortions…
She goes on to quote from a letter sent by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to the Minister of Health:
“This harm cannot be overstated,” the letter states. “There have already been at least two cases of attempted suicide by women in Northern Ireland unable to access care. We are also aware of a substantial increase (plus 28 per cent) in women turning to unregulated methods of abortion during the pandemic, which demonstrates access to regulated services remains an issue, and places these women at risk.”Dr Edward Morris. President RCOG.
On September 25th, the Department of Health shared its own concerns about self-managed medical abortions, warning in an article in the Newsletter, that women “are at risk” if they choose to pursue do-it-yourself terminations.
“The Department’s view is that services should be properly delivered through direct medical supervision within the health and social care system.”