2000 Irish women needed post-abortion support last year

If you go on to the HSE’s information page about abortion services in Ireland, and into the section advising people about what to expect after an abortion, one of the first lines you will read advises you that “around 2 or 3 out of every 100 people who have an abortion at less than 9 weeks pregnant may experience emotional and physical side effects.”

The latest figures from the HSE, though, would appear to undermine that statement:

Over 2,000 calls were made to My Options nursing helpline last year – available for medical support and reassurance 24/7 to anyone who has undergone a termination – latest figures show.

In addition, almost 10,400 calls were made to the My Options helpline in 2020, which delivers support and information to those with an unplanned pregnancy.

Now, obviously, that’s a very limited amount of data: All we know is that there were 2,000 calls to a helpline from women seeking post abortion support. We do not know the breakdown in terms of how many of these were for emotional support or counselling, or for medical advice related to prolonged bleeding, and so on.

What we can say, though, is that it is very hard to reconcile the official claim that 2-3% of women will need support with the reality, which is that over 40% of those who had an abortion needed some form of support.

The issue of “abortion regret” has been a hot topic in the abortion debate for many years, of course. Those who advocate legal abortions would have you believe that it almost never happens, and that abortion is a choice made by women who know exactly what they want, with no doubts, acting as adults. Those of us who disagree with them would point out that abortion is nearly always the last resort, and that very many women undergo one under family pressure, or without having had the time to think things through.

These statistics are not likely, of course, to make the public change their mind on whether abortion should be legal. What they should do, though, is make the public very sceptical indeed of the ongoing campaign by pro-choice campaigners to do away with the mandatory waiting period which is in place, where women are asked to wait three days between seeking an abortion, and getting abortion pills from their doctor.

What the figures show, clearly, is that for many women, the decision to have an abortion is one filled with doubt and uncertainty, and in many cases, regret. Suggesting that women take more time to think about their decision is a minor inconvenience for those who are absolutely determined about their decision, but it may well be providing vital time to think for those who are being pushed into it by a coercive partner, or those who have not quite come to terms with their own decision. There is no harm in giving people more time to think.

The pro-choice lobby, of course, is loathe to admit that abortions can ever be a negative experience for women, or that they have any downsides at all, lest that be perceived as giving rhetorical succour to their hated enemies, the pro-lifers. As a result, their lobbying is focused entirely on making abortion more and more widely available, and with fewer and fewer safety nets for those women who are negatively affected as a result. We know from international experience, as well as common sense, that many abortions take place to end pregnancies that a woman, in her heart, may have wanted to keep, but felt unable to, as a result of economic or family pressures. That’s one reason (though of course not the only reason) why 2,000 women sought post abortion support last year.

These figures should be at the very centre of the ongoing review of the abortion legislation. But outside of Gript and the Irish Medical Times, don’t expect to see them get much of a mention.

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