Three Irish women a day order abortion pills online, as study finds them 'safe and effective'

Briana O'Doherty, from Tallaght, at Connolly station, Dublin, after she took a train with other pro-choice campaigners from Dublin to Belfast. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Rebecca Lumley

Three Irish women a day access online abortion pills, according to a pro-choice group who praised the newly-released study pronouncing such pills “safe and highly effective.”

ROSA (for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity), a group initiated by the Socialist Party, welcomed the British Medical Journal’s report, which found that abortion pills were safe to use and were generally as successful as terminations carried out through the health service.

Speaking to, ROSA spokesperson Rita Harrold said that awareness of online abortion pills was growing in Ireland and praised the study for confirming “what we already know based on anecdotal information”.

The BMJ study surveyed Irish women who had obtained abortion pills through the online telemedicine clinic, Women on the Web. The Netherlands-based service provides an online consultation with a licensed doctor for people seeking abortion pills. They specifically consult with people who are less than 10 weeks pregnant and live in countries where abortion is restricted.

Researchers analysed questionnaire responses from 1,000 women living in the Republic and Northern Ireland who had purchased abortion pills from Women on the Web. It found that the pills supplied by the organisation had “high effectiveness rates” and “few reported adverse outcomes.”

The report added: “Reported rates of successful medical abortion are comparable with protocols in clinics, and women report successfully self screening for potentially serious complications and seeking medical assistance when necessary.”

Ms Harold said the pills were essential in providing women with safe access to abortion and were often the only affordable option for Irish citizens.

ROSA launched a “Bus 4 Repeal” campaign in the lead up to International Women's Day this year, which saw members travel the country distributing abortion pills from a bus. Over the course of the three day campaign, pills were given to 20 women who requested them.

Ms Harold said the campaign “had an impact in terms of people knowing about the pills,” which are a “relatively new phenomenon.”

The BMJ study reported that 2,150 women contacted Women on the Web between 2010 and 2013, though 514 cancelled their request and did not receive medication. Current figures state that 10 Irish women per day present in UK abortion clinics.

Irish women who order pills from Women on the Web have them shipped to an address outside of Ireland, as taking abortion pills is illegal and incoming prescription medications are seized by customs. According to Women on the Web, most women use an address in Northern Ireland and travel to physically collect the pills.

Spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), Linda Kavanagh said that while the report’s findings are positive, Irish people are not in an “ideal situation.”

She said: “It’s not an ideal situation, relying on other people to break the law and having to break the law yourself and risking 14 years (in prison). It’s not what we, as a country should be aiming for. We’re just fortunate that we live in a time where the methods available to women illegally are safe.

“Women have always tried to end pregnancies and in the past that has been through unsafe means and in other parts of the world it is through unsafe means. 43,000 women a year die due to unsafe abortions. That’s an epidemic, you know. If that was another type of medical issue I think it would be made a bigger deal of. So we’re lucky that we live in a time where what is available to us is safe.”

Ms Kavanagh said that ordering the pills is not dissimilar to attending an abortion clinic.

She said: “They are the same medication that you’ll get when you go to the UK. Even when you go the UK you take the medication in front of the doctor and then you go home. So it’s not an incredibly medical procedure. You go through the abortion at home.”