Abortion legislation is failing pregnant people in Ireland, study finds

According to a study published today, the law regulating abortion in Ireland also has a "chilling effect" on clinicians and their interaction with patients.

This article is about abortion rights in Ireland. In the picture, people marching in a protest for abortion rights, carrying signs with supportive messages.
Image: Via Unsplash - Harrison Mitchell

A new study found that abortion legislation in Ireland fails to meet the needs of those seeking to terminate a pregnancy in the country and causes a “chilling effect” on the interactions between clinicians and patients due to the criminalisation of doctors.

The Unplanned Pregnancy and Abortion Care (UnPAC) is a study conducted by Trinity College Dublin which was published today, July 12. It was commissioned by the HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme to inform the development, planning and delivery of services in the future. The study presents data on 58 women’s experiences in accessing abortion services in Ireland since the enactment of the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018.

The Act was signed into law after Ireland voted in favour of repealing the 8th amendment, which made abortion illegal in the country. Under such law, people are allowed to terminate a pregnancy after the first 12 weeks only in cases where the pregnant person’s life or health is at risk or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. At a recent conference, the UN Human rights council called Irish abortion laws “inhumane” and discriminatory for the barriers it poses.

The UnPAC study seems to confirm that, although the 8th amendment was repealed four years ago, Ireland still has a long way to go in terms of abortion access. According to the results, accessing abortion care is particularly difficult for people living in rural areas. The lack of services in those areas means that people must travel long distances, which represents a particular barrier especially for those who do not have access to a vehicle.

Moreover, the law imposes a mandatory three-day wait period for abortion, which some respondents perceived as a time of “heightened anxiety and distress” and the majority didn’t consider it to be beneficial to their decision-making process.

The most striking findings of the study concerned cases of people who experienced serious foetal anomaly diagnoses. Under the current law, an abortion can be carried out after the first 12 weeks only if two doctors certify “in good faith” that the baby will die within 28 days of birth. Because a doctor could incur criminal sanctions if they breach these terms, they must be absolutely certain of the diagnosis, which means that only a narrow number of people are allowed to be cared for.

“Aspects of the legislation negatively affected how health professionals could respond to service users. Criminalisation of doctors [had] a chilling effect on the interaction between health professionals providing abortion care and people seeking abortion care.” the report notes.

When someone didn’t qualify for care in Ireland, all that was left to do for them was to travel abroad in order to access abortion care, a process that respondents associated with “shame, stigma and judgement”. Those who were denied terminations of pregnancy “felt absolutely let down and devastated at what they felt was a failure by the State to live up to the spirit of repeal”.

The HSE provides unplanned pregnancy support services for people looking for counselling and information about how to access abortion care. You can find more information here.

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