The Real Story Behind Ireland and Isle of Man Abortion Figures
2015 DoH report shows small change in numbers of women travelling but hide real picture of harm done by Ireland and Isle of Man’s abortion laws.
The 2015 abortion statistics published by the Department of Health today show minimal differences in the numbers of women travelling to access a safe, legal abortion in England, reporting a slight decrease in the number of women from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and a more substantial increase in the number travelling from the Isle of Man.
However, a steep increase in calls from these countries to Abortion Support Network (ASN), which provides financial assistance, practical information and accommodation to women forced to travel to England to access an abortion, reveals the real story.
In 2015, Abortion Support Network received calls and emails from 648 women, couples and families seeking help in accessing a safe and legal abortion in England. ASN has heard from an additional 257 in the first four months of 2016 (Jan-April) which includes a slight increase in contacts from people in Northern Ireland, likely related to the recent conviction of a young woman for taking safe but illegal early medical abortion pills.
Abortion Support Network Director Mara Clarke said:
Abortion Support Network is an almost entirely volunteer-run charity helping women forced to travel to England to access abortion. We speak to women directly and hear first-hand of the difficulties and distress they are forced to endure because they cannot access a safe legal abortion in their own country.
These Department of Health abortion statistics only tell us how many women gave an Irish, Northern Irish or Isle of Man address at a UK family planning clinic; ASN knows these numbers only tell part of the story.
These numbers do not capture the women who cannot travel – women who need but cannot obtain passports or visas needed to travel, women who cannot escape from violent partners and women who do not have the £400 to £2,000 it costs to travel to England and pay privately for an abortion and who don’t know that ASN exists and can help them.
They do not include the women who come to England and give the address of a local friend or family member, the women who travel to other countries to access abortions, or the hundreds – if not thousands – of women who are obtaining early medical abortion pills online from Women Help and Women on Web, the two reputable groups providing these medications, or the hundreds more taken in by scam websites who steal women’s money.
While 2014’s numbers showed a slight increase in women travelling from Ireland and Northern Ireland, 2015 showed a return to the steady decrease in numbers that have been in evidence for several years with 284 fewer people giving Republic of Ireland addresses and 4 fewer people giving Northern Ireland addresses at UK clinics. With the Isle of Man, 2015 saw a jump in figures from 90 to 105. At the same time, the number of people contacting us for help has been increasing each year and has grown 628% during our six years of operation.
These are the women who are prevented by stigma from reaching out to families for help, women unable to scrape together the money to travel, women forced to share their personal business with a group of strangers in England and ask for money.
In addition to the need to raise funds to travel, those who need abortions face numerous other obstacles, including but not limited to: needing to take time off work; unscrupulous money lenders; medical misinformation distributed by rogue crisis pregnancy centres; finding childcare; keeping the abortion secret from those around them; traveling from rural parts of N/Ireland to an airport; cancelled flights due to inclement weather; delays caused by needing to obtain a passport, European ID or Visa; extra funds needed for expensive flights; the cost of the procedure increasing over time.
The calls we received, many from women who define themselves as against abortion or “pro-life”, is further proof that criminalising abortion does not stop abortion but creates a two-tiered system in which women with money have options and women without money have babies – or do dangerous and desperate things. (A study published last week also proves that criminalising abortion does not in any way prevent it; in Editors Notes.)
We’ve heard time and time again from women forced by the despair induced by a combination of poverty and draconian abortion laws who have taken matters into their own hands – by ingesting chemicals, by overdosing on medications, by drinking excessively, by literally throwing themselves down stairs to try and induce miscarriage.
As long as there are women facing an unwanted pregnancy who are unable to afford the costs of travelling to England and paying privately for an abortion, Abortion Support Network will continue to do our best to help them.’
These are some examples of the people who contacted us in 2015:
“It’s gotten to the stage where I'm starting to wonder is there any point in me continuing with my own life, never mind my pregnancy. It’s incredibly scary.”
“The father doesn’t want anything to do with me or the pregnancy. I’m not ready to be a mother. It wouldn’t be fair to the baby or to me. I have nothing in the world to offer a child.”
“I am devastated by this pregnancy as we can't afford another child. I have no one to talk to as everyone is against abortion.”
“This is the most stressful thing both of us have been through and I'm worrying for my girlfriend’s mental health. Your charity is probably our last hope.”
“I feel having another child will tip me over the edge. I'm struggling and I don't know what to do. I'm thinking crazy things to try to cause a miscarriage.”
“I suffer depression and chronic pain and after food and bills each week only have 25Euro left. Can you help me please?”
“I’m pregnant and need help. My kids and I live in a homeless shelter as I left my abusive partner. There’s no way I can have a baby that will tie me to him. I tried to get a scan at the hospital but they refused to give me one when I said it was for an abortion. I’ve thought of taking my own life but I can’t leave my children alone.”
And a positive comment to lighten things up:
"I thought every door was closed. I thought I had no options. Then I found your website."
For enquiries please contact:
Mara Clarke, Director, Abortion Support Network
07913 353 530
Notes for Editors
Official numbers of women travelling for abortion
For the second year in a row, the Department of Health has reported that there has been a decrease in the number of abortions performed for women giving addresses in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. The 2013 total is the lowest in any year since 1969.
The cost of abortion
Women who travel from Ireland, Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man to England for an abortion have to pay for their travel and often that of a partner, friend or family member accompanying them (last minute air fares and travel to and from the clinic), can need to pay for accommodation to stay overnight, and must pay for the procedure as a private patient. The cost of the procedure alone ranges between £330 to £1,310, plus consultation fee of £60 to £80 depending on the stage of their pregnancy and what clinic they attend. Some women must also pay the costs of childcare for children back home, take time off work, pay for travel documents, and other costs.
Recent study from The World Health Organisation and the Guttmacher Institute showed that countries with complete or severe restrictions on abortion have a higher percentage of abortions than counties where abortion is legal. Of course this study doesn’t count the women who are forced to continue their pregnancies due to lack of access to abortion. See study
About Abortion Support Network
Abortion Support Network (ASN) is a charity that provides financial assistance, confidential, non-judgemental information and accommodation in volunteer homes to women forced to travel from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man and pay privately for abortions in England. The cost ranges between £400 and £2000 depending on circumstance and stage of pregnancy. While many organisations campaign for much needed law reform, ASN is the only group providing women travelling for abortions with the thing they need most immediately: money.