How Irish Women Are Getting Around Abortion Laws

Source: Motto

By Alexandra Sifferlin

The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have some of the most restrictive laws surrounding abortion in the world. The procedure is illegal in both countries; the exception is only to save a pregnant woman’s life. In the midst of a debate in Ireland over whether abortion prohibitions should be reconsidered, a new study released on Monday provides insight into how women on both sides of the border are obtaining abortions—despite the restrictions.

In Northern Ireland, obtaining an abortion is punishable by a life sentence, which is the strictest criminal penalty for abortion in Europe. In Ireland, women could face a 14-year prison sentence,according to Amnesty International. That prompted close to 15,500 women to travel to England or Wales—where it is not illegal to terminate a pregnancy—for the procedure between 2010-2012. If traveling abroad isn’t an option, Irish and Northern Irish women with unwanted pregnancies reportedly seek out ways to self-induce an abortion, like with medication, or carry the fetus to term.

Others avail themselves of telemedicine. Since 2006, Women on Web, a Netherlands-based non-profit group, has provided abortion pills—mifepristone and misoprostol—to women living in countries where they cannot access the procedure safely or legally. Since 2006, Women on Websays around 50,000 women worldwide have received abortion pills through the mail. They are then guided through the process via Skype.

Obtaining mifepristone and misoprostol for a medical abortion is illegal in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and in April 2016, a woman was charged in Northern Ireland for helping her daughter access abortion pills, which was followed by public outrage. But Women on Web says customs regulations in most countries around the world allow for people to have medicine for personal use sent to them, and mifepristone and misoprostol are on the list of essential medicines of the World Health Organization.

The women in the study were diverse: They included married mothers, single mothers, migrant workers, young women completing their education, and rape victims. Some of the women were pro-abortion rights, and some were not. “A lot is assumed about women who have abortions, and I hope this [study] will inform the debate,” says Dr. Abigail R.A. Aiken, an assistant professor at theUniversity of Texas at Austin who was born in Northern Ireland. “These are women from all demographic and age groups—you can’t pin it down to a particular group.”

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