Wednesday 24 July 2019

An inconvenient truth about abortion in Ireland

A Vigil For Life Rally
A Vigil For Life Rally

Collette Browne

First, an incontestable statement: buying abortion pills online is dangerous and could have serious health consequences for women.

Women cannot be sure of what they are buying, the sellers are unregulated and the possibility of an adverse, potentially catastrophic, reaction after self-administering these drugs at home exists.

Yet, hundreds of Irish women are contacting at least one website every month seeking information about purchasing these pills online. Additionally, seizures of these drugs by customs officials have more than doubled in the first 10 months of this year.

The website even advises potential purchasers that it would be better if they were able to have the pills sent to the North and then couriered over the border.

Why? It's not because the women involved are stupid, or don't care about their health, or are eager to break the law.

Under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, it is an offence to "intentionally destroy unborn human life" and those found guilty face a maximum jail term of 14 years. So, these women are not only risking their health, they are risking their liberty by attempting to procure these drugs illegally.

Clearly, any rational person, faced with such dire consequences, would choose not to take these risks.

But that truism requires a caveat: any rational person who thought they had any other option would not take those risks.

Dr Caitriona Henchion, medical director of the Irish Family Planning Association, has said there is "no question" that Ireland's restrictive abortion law is behind the spike in the use of these illegally obtained drugs.

That law precludes abortion except in a minority of cases where a woman's pregnancy poses a "real and substantial" risk to her life.

Anyone else who wants an abortion is expected to travel and, in fact, this right is explicitly protected in the constitution.

But neither our constitution nor statute have anything to offer those women who can't afford the €1,000 cost of travel and don't want to continue with their pregnancy - except the possibility of a lengthy jail term.

Unable to get help from the law, women are flouting it and purchasing abortion pills online, at a fraction of the cost of travelling for a termination.

Pro-life campaigners say that desperate women in this situation have better options than resorting to buying illegal abortion pills.

However, all of their options are what they would prefer women to do, which is continue with the pregnancy and see it through until a child is born. They have no answer for those women who are unwilling to continue with the pregnancy, except to leave the jurisdiction and get help elsewhere.

Ireland is not the only country where abortion restrictions lead to women taking huge risks.

The inconvenient truth is that draconian abortion laws do not reduce the number of abortions - they simply make them more dangerous.

Decades ago, before the safety valve of the UK was available, women were having backstreet abortions, often without telling any close family or friends of the risk they were taking.

Since the advent of the Internet, those backstreet abortions are now happening in their own homes.

Because of the ease with which drugs can be purchased online, an increasing number of women, who cannot afford the cost of travel, are prepared to take extraordinary risks to get them.

Shutting down websites is not a solution, because as soon as one closes another will open.

Mounting more customs checks will have an effect, but they won't find all of the pills that are being smuggled into the country.

So, what should we do? Continue to ignore the reality of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women imperilling their lives every year and persist with the fiction that there's no such thing as an Irish abortion?

Or, consider the need to protect women and legislate for the reality of their lives, rather than the aspirational ideals of the pro-life lobby?

Irish Independent

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