Saturday 16 December 2017

Medics warn of dangers as 1,000 abortion pills seized this year

Pro life marchers pass Pro Choice protestors on O'Connell Street during campaigning ahead of last year's abortion referendum
Pro life marchers pass Pro Choice protestors on O'Connell Street during campaigning ahead of last year's abortion referendum

Mark O'Regan and  Emma Jane Hade

Abortion pills being bought online and on the black market are posing a serious health risk, doctors have warned.

More than 1,000 of the tablets have been seized in Ireland this year, mostly as they arrived into the country via mail order.

Medics say that our anti- abortion laws are forcing women to order high-risk pills on the internet in a bid to end unwanted pregnancies.

There is growing unease that teenagers, and women who are hard hit financially, are willing to risk their health without proper medical supervision.

"This phenomenon is happening," said Dr Peter Boylan, consultant obstetrician and former Master of the National Maternity Hospital. He has called for an overhaul of abortion laws.

The Dublin Well Woman Centre agreed the limitations of existing legislation is forcing some pregnant women to resort to extreme measures.

"A woman can find herself in crisis and isolated," said chief executive Alison Begas.

"There may be panic and worry about finance and support structures.

"It's very easy to understand how a woman might go online - and think there is an easy solution to her problems by ordering certain medication.

"The legal situation here is creating this situation. Ordering these pills online isn't safe or legal. There has to be a real worry about the risks to women," she warned.

Several elected representatives will join a group of women today as they travel from the capital to Northern Ireland to purchase abortion pills that are legal there.

Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger and pro-choice campaigners will make the journey to Belfast.

Ms Coppinger said the aim of the trip is to bring back "safe, non-surgical abortion pills banned by the Irish state".

"The aim is to highlight the ongoing ban on abortion in this country, and the affect that it has on women's health and lives. And we want to re-enact the contraceptive train of the 1970s," the Dublin-West representative said.

"The abortion pills that are widely used around the world are accessible in Belfast."

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has expressed concern about women trying to induce an abortion using pills without supervision.

"It's very dangerous because the women involved have no idea what they are buying," explained Dr Caitriona Henchion, medical director of the Association.

The 'abortion pill' is widely available in the UK, to be taken under strict medical supervision, but is not authorised for use in Ireland.

Women in this country who end up circumventing the law take the tablets in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

The process involves taking two pills, approximately 48 hours apart, creating an effect similar to a miscarriage.

One pill is the drug 'mifepristone' and the other is 'misoprostol'.

Side-effects of taking misoprostol include haemorrhaging and uterine rupture - a tear in the uterus which can be catastrophic for the patient.

Medical experts acknowledge the extent of the problem here is difficult to quantify, because women only seek help when something goes wrong.

"When someone has taken this medication, and pregnancy continues because it hasn't worked, there's a high risk of foetal abnormalities," warned Dr Henchion.

Choice Ireland, which is in favour of liberalising our abortion laws, are concerned teenagers are purchasing the tablets from various online sources.

"It's likely to be somebody who doesn't have the financial means to travel abroad for a termination, " said spokesperson Sinead Ahern.

"Teenagers are definitely less likely to be able to come up with the €1,500 required compared to an adult with a job."

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), and the Department of Health, said they were aware of a "black market" operating in Ireland.

It is illegal for people to obtain medicines via mail order, and the HPRA in conjunction with customs officials, monitor packages coming into Ireland on an ongoing basis.

Most of the seized products were purchased via the internet and intercepted before reaching the intended recipient.

But despite these confiscations the authorities fear medicines are still getting in illegally.

Latest figures show the number of seizures of pills that can be used for abortions more than doubled during the first 10 months of this year.

Irish Independent

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