As Lá Fhéile Bhríde passes again, marking the pagan festival of spring or ‘Imbolc’ it is a good time to reflect on the monumental changes that have occurred for the people of Ireland since last year’s feast day.
We won an historic victory by repealing the 8th amendment, and we are now living with the accepted reality of abortion in Ireland.
Abortion legislation is being rolled out across the country and Abortion Access Campaign West (AACW) are monitoring the situation and campaigning to ensure that abortion access is widely available in the West of Ireland.
Anyone living in Ireland now has a right to access free and legal abortion services.
About 240 GPs signed in by Feb 2019 to practice abortion up to 9 weeks of pregnancy. Positive reports have been made about services provided in UHG: the staff are said to be very caring and empathetic and we have received no individual complaints, thus far, for the SAOLTA area. The “My Options” freephone has been reported to be working well, with an Irish sign language option available. Over the phone or face to face counselling is available for pregnant people but also for their partners. Importantly, abortion services in Galway are available to people from other jurisdictions, though the fees may be prohibitive.
So, although AACW welcomes this positive news, it is important to stay aware that a number of matters need to be addressed as quickly as possible.
Currently, there is a lack of access to information and/or abortion services in some areas, such as Carlow, Leitrim, Offaly, and Sligo. Also, access to information is restricted in areas without sufficient broadband access. Secondly, the three day waiting period makes several medical appointments necessary, which can be time consuming and cost restrictive. This is also the case for patients from Northern Ireland, who in addition to travel costs also face a cost for accessing the service. Thirdly, the HSE has contracted a private company, Affidea, to provide ultrasound services in connection with the provision of abortion. Unfortunately this was not up and running by 1st January and when implemented will have a shortfall in the mid-west. This also increases the likelihood of additional appointments for the service user, and the requirement to travel to more than one location to avail of abortion services. Other very worrying concerns include breaches in patient confidentiality, lack of exclusion zones around abortion providers and rogue websites providing intentionally misleading information. These must be dealt with urgently. Similarly, the promises made by the government to provide free access to contraception have not been significantly followed up on. We would encourage swift movement on this vital provision. Finally, the remaining criminal statutes in the legislation are proving problematic for medical staff providing the service after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The lack of clarity is confronting pregnant people with the possibility of being denied a legitimate and legal termination in Ireland, resulting in them travelling abroad for healthcare.