Why UK Abortion Clinics Are Turning Away Irish Women

Photo: Rockie Nolan
For many women in Ireland, where abortion is heavily restricted by law, one of the only viable options for ending an unwanted pregnancy is to travel to an abortion clinic in the UK. But this already expensive and complicated process is about to become even more difficult, as Britain's biggest abortion provider is to begin turning away Irish women from its clinics due to overwhelming demand. Marie Stopes International said it is to start prioritising patients referred by the British NHS. However, Irish women who have already booked appointments will still receive treatment, The Times reported. A spokeswoman for the organisation said it would refer Irish women to another abortion provider, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), but a BPAS spokeswoman warned that it, too, is under strain. Marie Stopes said the restrictions will be temporary rather than a permanent ban, reported The Times. “January and February are always the busiest times of year and we are currently managing high demand by referring some women to other providers to ensure they can be seen as soon as possible,” its spokeswoman said. However, she said that anyone who has difficulty finding another provider should call Marie Stopes back. Linda Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) in Ireland, said the situation "serve[s] as a reminder that the Irish government has abdicated its responsibility to women and pregnant people in Ireland," because the British system can no longer support the 11 women who travel from the country each day. Taking to Twitter, Marie Stopes UK said reports that it was turning away Irish woman were "not true". "This is our busiest time of year for NHS appointments so we're directing private clients to other clinics if they can be seen sooner," the organisation tweeted. It added: "We are unwavering in our support for women in Northern Ireland & the Republic of Ireland who are so badly let down by their laws." Access to abortion is blocked in the vast majority of cases in Ireland and Northern Ireland, bar cases in which a woman's life is at risk, for instance if a woman is suicidal, but even then, only if she can prove it to a panel of medical professionals. More than 3,400 Irish women travelled to the UK for abortions in 2015, but those who cannot afford to pay for the private procedure often have no choice but to buy pills online, which contain mifepristone and misoprostol, to induce miscarriage. BPAS recently launched a campaign in Northern Ireland to help women who have used the illegal pills, who often fail to receive the necessary aftercare for fear of being caught. In Ireland, meanwhile, there are calls for women to strike on the 8th March, International Women's Day, if the country's government fails to call a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment before then.

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