Thousands of Irish women express gratitude for illegal abortion pills

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Thousands of women in Ireland and Northern Ireland have reported relief and gratitude following the use of abortion pills, a new study has found.

In both countries, abortion is illegal – unless the mother’s life is at risk or, in the case of Northern Ireland, if her mental health is in jeopardy. But a study has found that women have been illegally obtaining the pills, given no other option. The women also reported feeling only one regret: that they had to break the law in order to have an abortion (using such pills can result in a life sentence), making them feel like second-class citizens.

The paper, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found that 5,650 women from both countries accessed the abortion pills from 2010 to 2015, and that women aged 25 to 34 are the most likely demographic to seek access to such medication – with almost 50% of this group seeking the service.

The lowest percentage users were women under 20, who made up 4.6% of those using the service, and over 45s, who made up 2.6%.

Most of the women seeking the abortion pills were found to already have a child, and they maintain that taking the pills was the right choice for them, and 98% of women said they would recommend the pills to others.

Researchers from the University of Texas, Austin, who conducted the study, analysed information provided by Netherlands-based organisation Women on the Web, and claim it is the first proper indicator of how many women are seeking the medication.

The most common reason cited (by 62% of women) for using the service was that they could not cope with having a child “at this point in my life,” with “having no money to raise a child” cited as the second most likely reason (by 44% of women). 30% felt they were too young to have a child.

Failure of contraception was the most common reason respondents cited for pregnancy.

Earlier this year, a woman in Northern Ireland was reported by her flatmates for having taken the pills, and was given a three-month suspended sentence. The case sparked a series of protests. This latest study has found that the women most likely to take the pills are those who could not afford to travel to the UK to have an abortion – although many still do.

“These barriers create a stark health inequity: women with financial and social resources can access offshore termination of pregnancy, while women who lack such resources cannot,” says the paper

Prof Abigail Aiken, who led the study, said “The findings of this paper contribute new and important evidence to the abortion policy debate in Northern Ireland.”

“Northern Irish women have described in their own words the benefits of access to safe early medical abortion for their health, wellbeing, and autonomy. The current abortion law, which dates back to 1861, harms women by creating a climate of stigma, shame, and isolation.”

Later this month, protesters are calling for a referendum to repeal the laws in the Republic of Ireland.

The news comes not long after the Polish government was forced to U-turn on an abortion ban, following protests by hundreds of thousands worldwide.