A review of the 2018 Irish abortion legislation is scheduled for 2021.

In a sane society, evidence for such a review would be routinely collected from the medics providing the abortion. In other countries, that is indeed what happens. There is some variation among these countries in the amount of data collected. But information about age of mother, ethnicity, marital status, socioeconomic status, history of previous abortions, the grounds for abortion and other information is routinely collected.

One of the purposes of gathering data is to better understand why women are having abortions so as to formulate policies which might assist women and reduce the number of abortions – an objective most people would support.

But this doesn’t happen in Ireland. Judging by the official abortion report for 2019 from the Department of Health (published June 30th 2020) the form completed by Irish medics provides routine information only about gestational age of the baby, woman’s county of residence, and month of the abortion. (Even then, the county of residence information was omitted in a massive 525 separate reports). So how can anyone conduct a sensible review?

It smacks of deliberate obfuscation. Do the authorities here want to leave themselves wriggle room, so that already liberal abortion legislation can be liberalised further following the 2021 review? In particular, do they want to get rid of the three-day waiting period?

It certainly seems that way. The softening-up process has already begun, with medics and abortion activists issuing statements to the media saying that the waiting period serves no purpose, occasionally can cause problems with the twelve-week gestational age limit, and is demeaning to women.

The “serves no purpose” argument, however, is no more than an assertion and is not based on any real evidence. The GPs prescribing the abortion pills are not required to inform the Department of Health about the number of women who change their minds in the course of the three-day waiting period for an abortion. It looks very much as if the government plan for the review, when it comes, was to rely on anecdotal evidence, at best.

But here’s the thing. There is actually quite a lot of evidence to the contrary. Ironically enough, there is even some evidence from abortion proponents. Some of the same people who will be pushing for elimination of the three-day waiting period in 2021, were singing a completely different tune in 2018. Set out below, in italics, is an excerpt from TheJournal.ie of May 23rd 2018.

It’s estimated that around five Irish women request an abortion pill everyday from telemedicine websites; with a further two women from Northern Ireland requesting the same.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said that his department estimates around three women a day in Ireland take abortion pills.

When asked at a briefing last week about what explained the discrepancy in figures, Dr Rebecca Gomperts of telemedicine service Women on Web said that women might request an abortion pill, but could decide at a later stage to continue with the pregnancy.

“The fact that the option of getting an abortion is there for women, helps stop the panic and helps them make a decision,” she said.

What is also interesting is that the data shows quite a lot of women decide not to get an abortion, because actually for them it was such a relief that they had the medicine they could start to really think about whether they wanted to have an abortion or not.

Women on Web can’t say that a woman has had an abortion just because the pills were sent out.

I copied and pasted this excerpt verbatim; the only change I made was the use of italics; not even the highlighting of the line above is my doing, it was done by TheJournal.ie.

Women on Web is a site which arranges to send abortion pills directly to women, and the above is what they had to say in 2018. TheJournal.ie actively supported the legalisation of abortion in 2018. No one is going to accuse either of these organisations, therefore, of being pro-life propagandists. But there it is in black and white (with highlighting): women do change their minds about abortion.

In fact, we now also have strong home-grown evidence.

Thanks to a 2019 parliamentary question (PQ) from Carol Nolan TD, we have some actual statistics from the HSE, to the effect that nearly 900 Irish women, attending abortion-providing GPs etc for a first consultation in 2019, changed their minds and did not proceed with the abortion. This information was not in the official abortion report of 30th June from the Department of Health, but it was in the system, because GP’s are paid based on number of abortion consultations, and so the number of first consultations could be separately counted and compared with the number of subsequent consultations.

Full credit to Carol Nolan for eliciting this vital information – that close to one in eight women here changed their minds about abortion in 2019.

There is also some supporting evidence. It is stated in the IFPA Annual Report for 2019 that 22 out of 177 of their clients sampled (i.e 1 in 8 of their sample) did not proceed beyond the first consultation.

In view of all this, a sane government, in a sane society, would be expected to reason as follows. There is strong evidence, here and abroad, that women do change their minds about abortion, if and when they are given time for reflection.  In Ireland, the three-day waiting period should therefore be regarded as a good thing. Almost no-one, even the majority of those who voted Yes wants more abortions to take place.

There’s another consideration that the government might take into account.  The birth rate in this country has been declining steadily for years, and is now well below the population replacement rate, with potentially catastrophic effects on pension and healthcare provision. To those of us who are pro-life, no other reason for opposing abortion is needed; but for those in government who are not pro-life, surely the catastrophic long-term effects of a declining birth rate should itself be sufficient reason to try to support women more and keep abortion numbers down.

That is not how things work in Ireland on the abortion issue, unfortunately. If data will help promote the abortion agenda, or will help sell abortion pills, then that data will be accepted, invoked and publicised. If not, there will be attempts to suppress the data – even if it is the same data. Our politicians act like this because our media let them away with it. Not one of the Irish Times, Independent, Examiner or RTE, for example, reported the HSE reply to Carol Nolan’s PQ. Neither has even one of the three political parties currently in government paid it any attention, at least not publicly.

When it comes to Ireland and abortion, it seems, we are in Marx Brothers territory (“There ain’t no sanity clause”) rather than in the realm of evidence-based medicine and sensible, long-term national policies. We are facing an establishment-backed push to remove the three-day waiting period, leading to nearly 1000 additional Irish abortions every year, because neither the media nor the political establishment are prepared to face up to the facts.

Time for the pro-life movement, then, to ramp up its efforts to make the facts publicly known. That, after all, is how democracy thrives.

 


 

Jim Stack MSc PhD is a retired Mathematician/Statistician, and is writing here in a personal capacity. Most of his research output is listed on researchgate