Below Irish Broad Left publishes the joint statement from Alliance for Choice, Abortion Rights Campaign and Abortion Support Network, issued in response to the release of British Department of Health statistics reporting the number of women that travelled from Ireland to England or Wales to access an abortion in 2019.
“Even one person having to travel for care is too many”
Last year, 1,389 women gave addresses from Ireland, North and South, when having an abortion in England or Wales – still an unacceptable 26 women a week.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The statistics are no substitute forover a thousand different tales of travel.
Cathie Shiels from the Abortion Rights Campaign said:
The figures from the UK Department of Health (DOH) demonstrate clearly to those of us in the South that the compassionate care promised by politicians during the 2018 referendum has not materialised.
On the contrary, we have heard heartbreaking stories from those who believed they were entitled to a legal abortion in Ireland being forced to travel. Our new law puts doctors in the position of making impossible distinctions between ‘fatal’ and all other severe, complex, or life-threatening foetal anomalies, distinctions that are not rooted in medicine.
With the threat of prosecution still hanging over them, many doctors are hesitant to make that distinction and so, as illustrated here by the UK DOH figures, many are still forced to travel to access the compassionate care we voted for in 2018.
Emma Campbell, co-convener of Alliance for Choice Belfast, said:
These statistics demonstrate the current law is not working for Northern Ireland (NI). The NI Department of Health must issue immediate guidance to all relevant medical professionals on the availability of care pathways in Northern Ireland and follow-up care pathways.
We watched recently in Stormont as the same medically unsound and highly emotive language was used in an attempt to water down our own access to care.
While abortion care in England is funded for many people, this does not absolve the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) of its duty to uphold our human rights. We urge the NIO and NI Department of Heath to ensure there is free safe legal and local abortion care in line with the regulations.
Mara Clarke, Founder of the Abortion Support Network, said:
While the legal landscape changed in 2019 to allow legal provision of abortion in the Republic of Ireland and for people from Northern Ireland to access free abortion care in England, we continue to hear from people in both jurisdictions who fall through the cracks.
The people we hear from are increasingly marginalised and at risk, and require higher levels of funding and support than in past years. In fact, the amount of funding required per person has almost doubled – to an average of £621 per person in 2019 from £375 per person in 2018 and £300 per person in 2017.
What continues to keep us up at night are the people we don’t hear from – those who are unable to access care locally or who fall outside the guidelines and are not aware that we can support to either pay for an abortion in Ireland if they don’t qualify for care, or to help them access an abortion abroad.
We think even one person having to travel for care is one too many, while also believing there are many people who have needed to travel who have been forced to continue unwanted pregnancies.
The three activists jointly concluded:
Women in their hundreds still have to make the lonely journey to England or Wales. We are incredibly grateful to the amazing staff who provide the care and compassion that our doctors here are unable to provide.
Behind each of these figures is a person who was forced to travel to get the healthcare they need.
We call on the government to scrap the restrictions and ensure that free, safe, legal and local abortion is available for anyone who wants or needs it when we review the abortion legislation in 2021.
Top image shows a pro-choice protest outside the Irish Embassy in London in 2016. Photo: Alastair Moore.