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Has Covid masked the trend on abortion?

Hats off to the Government PR machine for releasing the second annual lot of abortion figures on the same day that they reversed course and announced that indoor pints would not, after all, be on the menu. One story dominated the news, the other didn’t get much of a mention.

Had it gotten a mention, though, it would be hard to know what to make of the abortion figures. On the one hand, if you are somebody who worried that abortion numbers would rise and rise after legalisation, then there is some comfort to be found in the headline figures: 6,577 abortions in 2020, as opposed to 6,666 in 2019. A slight decrease, in fact, not the increase you might have feared.

On the other hand, though, 2020 was not a normal year. One might suspect that not having access to niteclubs, pubs, and socialising in general in 2020, and a general fear, for most of the year, of meeting and getting too close to strangers, might have reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies. Indeed, the pandemic certainly reduced the number of wanted pregnancies: Births in 2020 fell by over 4,000, down from 59,796 in 2019 to 55,959 in 2020.

So, the abortion rate actually went up: In 2019, one in every ten Irish pregnancies ended in abortion. In 2020, it was closer to one in every nine.

And the raw data would tend to confirm that trend too. In January 2020, when there was no pandemic, there were 709 abortions in Ireland. In January 2019, by contrast, there were only 625. But in May, once the pandemic had properly set in, abortions were down from 580 to 520. That would tend to suggest that at least some of the apparently flat rate can be explained away by the covid restrictions limiting opportunities for risky sex, rather than any break in the societal erosion of respect for unborn life.

In fact, then, if you are somebody who deplores abortion, the trends are mainly negative: Abortions rose as a percentage of pregnancies and births, despite the overall reduction in pregnancies.

If there is a positive in relation to the figures, it is that the number of abortions carried out on the grounds of a child having a life limiting condition remained static: 97 last year, as opposed to 100 the year before, which suggests that so far, at least, the proportion of parents in that awful situation who are making the choice to abort is remaining relatively static, and that societal pressure to abort is not, so far at least, pushing those numbers up, in part, one hopes, due to the work of groups like Every Life Counts.

The figures on risk to life or health are very static, too – 21 in 2019, versus 20 in 2020. “Emergency” abortions – classified as those carried out where there is an immediate risk of a woman dying – were 3 in 2019, and 5 in 2020, though such abortions were legal even while the 8th amendment was in effect.

What is striking, though, is that while the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment was centred around these so-called “hard cases”, the proportion of such cases remains absolutely tiny. 98.14% of abortions that took place in Ireland in 2020 took place purely because a healthy unborn baby was unwanted. Last week, the country was shocked by the case of Baby Christopher – the healthy baby who was wrongly aborted after doctors in the National Maternity Hospital misdiagnosed him. In 2020, six thousand four hundred and fifty five healthy babies, just like him, were aborted.

They didn’t get names, though. Which, if you think about it, is absurd. They had a right to life, just like he did.

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