Figures published by the Department of Health on access to abortion services show that at least 6,700 women, girls and pregnant people accessed abortion care in Ireland in 2021.
Commenting on the report, IFPA Chief Executive, Niall Behan said: “These figures show that abortion provision is meeting a significant healthcare need. Prior to 2019, women and girls in Ireland had no option but to rely on UK abortion clinics and overseas online providers for this care.
“The discrepancy between HSE data and notifications of abortion submitted to the Department of Health underscores the anomalous process of data collection on abortion. The requirement to notify each abortion to the Minister is clearly overly burdensome for providers. No other essential healthcare data is subject to this kind of legal requirement. It stigmatises abortion care and the notifications do not provide adequately nuanced data.”
“A national service that provides abortion in Ireland, mostly on request, within local primary healthcare and at no cost to service users, is a clear social good,” Mr Behan added. “The county-by-county statistics show that residents of every county sought abortion care in 2021. However, this masks the fact that while some counties have convenient local access to abortion, many are underserved, with few provider GPs and no local hospital service.”
The figure of 6,700 provided by the HSE relates only to services reimbursed through the Primary Care Reimbursement Scheme (PCRS) in 2021. The HSE reimburses medical practitioners for abortion services only if a Personal Public Service Number is provided. The IFPA said that this policy excludes vulnerable groups, such as newly arrived asylum seekers, who lack the means to pay as private clients for a time-sensitive service.
Mr Behan commented: “Abortion has broadened reproductive choices and enhanced sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing in Ireland, but we cannot ignore the realities of unequal access and unmet need.” According to the UK Department of Health and Social Care, 775 women and girls resident in Ireland accessed abortion care in England and Wales between 2019 and 2021.
“Those who were over 12 weeks pregnant, or whose pregnancy involved a foetal anomaly that did not fit the strict legal definition in the 2018 Act, were denied care in Ireland by legal barriers that have no basis whatsoever in any reason related to women’s health,” Mr Behan continued.
“As a provider of abortion services, we know that legal barriers such as the gestation limit and the mandatory waiting period disproportionately burden the most vulnerable, marginalised and disadvantaged. These restrictions serve only to create an excluded minority who are denied access to abortion care.
“The current review of the 2018 Act is an opportunity to focus on necessary amendments to remove discriminatory and exclusionary provisions, so that the national abortion service can provide care to all who need it.”