In the ongoing abortion debate in Ireland there is a lot of misinformation, misconceptions and stretching of the truth. In this document we aim to give informative, factual, and clear answers to the most frequent questions we have been asked and are likely to be asked in the future.
At the Abortion Rights Campaign our goal is for free, safe and legal abortion to be available in Ireland to any person who requests one and we believe (and research has consistently shown) that criminalizing abortions doesn’t reduce abortions – it only puts women in danger and makes access more difficult.
We have a lot of information available about current abortion law in Ireland and related issues on our Info page.
Our ‘Let’s Talk’ and Explainer blog series may also answer your questions – click a title below to go straight to the relevant blog post.
Let’s Talk About: Prenatal testing – facts and fears
Let’s Talk About: Iceland and Down Syndrome – what the numbers really say
Let’s Talk About: “Safe, Legal and Rare”
Let’s Talk About: Mandatory waiting periods
Let’s Talk About: Abortion in early pregnancy
Let’s Talk About: What we can learn from Italy and “conscientous objection”
Explainer: The Constitution, Legislation and Abortion Law, Part 1
Explainer: The Constitution, Legislation and Abortion Law, Part 2
Explainer: The votes of the Joint Oireachtas Committee
Explainer: ARC is not affiliated to any political party
Explainer: Why we campaign for Free, Safe and Legal abortion
Explainer: What actually happened at the Citizens’ Assembly?
Guest post: The women we can’t help, by Mara Clarke of the Abortion Support Network
If you have a question that isn’t covered below or just want to get in touch with the campaign please feel free to email us: [email protected]
Click here to download a printable version: FAQs
What should be the time limit on abortion access?
When given the choice, people access abortion services as early as possible. In countries where abortion is legal and accessible, late term abortions are very rare. In the U.S 92% of abortions are carried out within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
However, sometimes the need for an abortion does not become apparent until later in pregnancy. For example, a diagnosis of foetal impairment is often only given after the 22 week scan. These cases are extremely rare but they do happen. Approximately 1.2 and 1.4 percent of abortions occur at or after twenty-one weeks gestation in the U.S. and U.K. respectively.
Attempts to enforce legal time limits for abortion are often enacted with a view to lower the number of abortions. However, there is no evidence that this is effective. This also suggests somehow there exists a ‘correct’ number of abortions, further separating the procedure from routine medical care. Indeed ‘late-term’ abortions are subject to intensified stigma. Overall arbitrary limitations compound stigma and prevent women from accessing the highest possible standards of care.
There is no right or wrong time to have an abortion, just as no one reason for accessing abortion services outweighs the other. Studies have shown that there are a variety of reasons that people need to access later term abortions.
Why should abortion be free?
At the Abortion Rights Campaign we have always advocated that abortion should be free, safe and legal and covered under the HSE like any other healthcare procedure. All maternity related healthcare is free to people living in Ireland, abortion is part of healthcare and therefore it makes sense that it is also free. However people travelling from Northern Ireland, as well as those who do not have a PPS number, are still required to pay for abortion care. We continue to advocate for free abortion care for everyone who needs it.
Should abortion be available on demand?
Abortion should be available to anyone who asks for one. The reason, be it health concerns, rape, fatal foetal abnormality, or simply not wanting to remain pregnant, should be an issue only for the pregnant person, their doctor and anyone they wish to tell.
“Abortion on Demand” is emotive language designed to demonise people who have abortions and paint them as unreasonable and demanding. People should not be forced into carrying pregnancies they don’t want and should not be judged for making the decision that is right for them.
Should abortions be allowed for someone who knows their baby will have a serious illness, condition or disability?
Abortion should be available where a person asks for one. If someone feels unable to raise a child with a serious illness or condition, they should be entitled to an abortion if they feel that is the right choice for them.
We should not be here to judge the decisions made by pregnant people, but rather ensure they have the agency and legal right to make those decisions. Whatever the reason for abortion the pregnant person is the best position to make decisions about their own circumstances and capacity.
Do people regret having an abortion?
Studies show that the vast majority of people do not regret their abortion. The American Psychological Association (APA) and the Johns Hopkins University have both carried out separate large-scale reviews of research on abortion and mental health. Both established that the large majority of people don’t regret having chosen abortion. Research by the HSE’s Crisis Pregnancy Programme in 2010 showed that 87% of people in Ireland who had an abortion said it was ‘the right outcome’ for them.
Of course it’s possible to regret having had an abortion, possible to experience feelings of regret or loss afterwards, and we do not wish to erase the experiences of people who do. However it is also possible to feel a sense of relief and closure after having an abortion. Similarly, it’s possible to regret having placed a child for adoption, having adopted a child, having given birth, not having given birth – or not having had the choice not to give birth. Such is the variety of human experiences and emotions.
Significantly, restricting access to abortion does provoke feelings of depression and anxiety and does increase the risk of suicide in pregnancy. This burden is merely exacerbated by the isolation and stigmatisation felt by those compelled to travel overseas for access to safe, legal abortion services.
Whose consent should be needed in order to terminate a pregnancy? Should partners get to have a say?
We believe in the right to chose. While a person can discuss their options with their doctor, their partner, and whoever else they wish, the final choice on what to do with their body should rest with the person who is pregnant. This includes continuing with a pregnancy or choosing abortion.
How old should a person be to get an abortion without parental consent?
Consent to any medical procedure is best covered by medical guidelines. Typically in Ireland a person over 16 can consent to treatment on their own behalf and in some cases consent of a mature minor (under 16) on their own can be sufficient. That being said, a situation where a teenager is forced into carrying a pregnancy they don’t want because of the wishes of their parents would be unacceptable. People of all ages should be afforded agency over their own bodies.
Should abortion be used for financial reasons?
While in an ideal world financial concerns would not stop someone from having a baby, the reality is that many people simply cannot afford to raise a child. Sometimes this is because they are young, perhaps still in school or college, or without a secure job. Other times they would not be able to support the children they already have if they were to have another.
Before the 2019 Health Bill, and in many cases subsequently, the cost of travelling from Ireland to the UK for an abortion can cost upwards of €1000, and while abortion pills are much cheaper, people who take them here outside of the circumstances allowed by the Health Bill risk criminal penalties. Continuing limited options for people already in precarious financial situations is not good enough. Everyone needs access to free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland.
Those who want abortions used to just go to the UK or other places, why did we need to legalise it here?
Unfortunately for many people in need of abortion access the short trip to the UK is not as simple as it might sound. Even with legal abortion now available, there are still people who need to travel due to restrictions in the law. There are 4 main barriers to travel:
- Financial – a trip to the UK for an abortion can cost upwards of €1000. For many people this is a prohibitive amount of money and not something they can raise easily. People have had to borrow from friends or family, or take out loans from the bank. Many of those who cannot raise the money resort to desperate measures to end their pregnancies. Without the services of the Abortion Support Network who help many people raise the money they need for an abortion, there would be many more deaths from botched abortion attempts.
- Legal status – For many migrants and refugees, travelling outside Ireland for an abortion is impossible due to their legal status. Trans men can also have issues travelling due to the gender on their passport or I.D, if they have not yet gone through the legal gender recognition process. The horrific case of Ms Y in 2014 shows what happens when people who are unable to travel are forced to carry pregnancies against their will.
- Childcare – It is reported in the US that just over 60% of women who have abortions already have 1 or more children. For Irish people with children seeking abortion in the UK, organising childcare is an issue. Many cannot tell people they are travelling for an abortion and if they cannot arrange or afford someone to mind their children while they travel abroad, they will not be able to go.
- Health – If a pregnant person has a condition that limits their mobility or means they cannot fly, this causes a barrier to travel.
When does life begin/is abortion murder?
This is often considered the most difficult question about abortion. For many pro-life advocates, life begins at the moment of conception. For others life begins at birth. And for others still life begins at some part in between; perhaps when the foetus reaches 23 weeks (the cusp of viability–where it can survive outside the womb); perhaps at 6 weeks when the embryo can sometimes develop a heartbeat; or perhaps at week 14 when the brain impulses begin to fire. In medical language, the fusion of a sperm and egg results in a single cell called a zygote, which, as it goes through subsequent growth, becomes a blastocyst, morula, embryo and then a foetus. Only after birth is it scientifically correct to use the word ‘baby.’
The point is, nobody really knows when life begins, or if there is any specific point in time that can be pinpointed. Viability is a sliding scale: the chance of survival outside the womb increases dramatically between 24 and 28 weeks, from about 40% at the beginning of the 24th week to more than 80% four weeks later. While some people fiercely maintain that life begins at conception, science cannot provide a definite answer to this question, and in Ireland, these fiercely held views of some denied and in some cases continue to deny human rights to all people who can get pregnant.
Ultimately debates about whether or not a foetus has ‘personhood’ take the focus away from the experiences of people with unwanted pregnancies.
Realistically, up until the point of viability, the foetus needs the pregnant person’s body in order to survive, and this is the important point. Even if you believe that life begins at conception, we have no legal obligation to keep others alive by sacrificing our own bodies. For example: no one is forced to donate blood even though people would die without blood transfusions. No one is forced to give bone marrow even though cancer patients need it to survive. And no one is forced to donate their kidneys to someone in need of a transplant, even if they are a match, even if the person would die without them, even if the person in need is a child.
Now, some people may feel you are morally obliged to do these things, but moral obligation and legal obligation are not the same thing, and in fact we would all be horrified if suddenly the entire country were legally obliged to give up their organs to those who need them. But this is what is demanded of pregnant people in Ireland – they are are forced under the law to use their bodies as incubators and maintain the “life” of another. Under the 8th Amendment, a living, breathing, grown person with thoughts, emotions, feelings, and memories was considered equal in rights to a foetus which up until 10 weeks is no bigger than a grape. Pregnant people’s lives are worth more than the value that was placed on them under the Irish Constitution.
The question of when life begins is an academic one, the suffering of people who are denied safe abortions is real. Being pro-choice does not mean we push people towards having abortions or assume the right to declare when life begins. However, criminalizing abortion has been proven to endanger people without reducing the number of abortions. Questions about morality and when life begins cannot be answered simply or in general statements – we trust pregnant people to make their own decisions.
Are you pro-abortion?
Being pro-choice means that we believe every person should have the right to choose whether to go through with a pregnancy or not. We believe people should have the right to a safe, legal abortion if that is their choice, but the term ‘pro-abortion’ suggests that we actively encourage abortions, which is not the case. We support pregnant people whatever choice they make, including abortion or continuing with pregnancy.
Isn’t abortion dangerous?
No, it is a very safe procedure when carried out with medical supervision in a safe and legal context. Early medical abortion with pills is less risky than surgical abortions as any surgical procedure has some risks. However, legal abortion is markedly safer than childbirth – the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.
As with any medical procedure complications are possible, but they are rare (especially for medical abortion).
When carried out by trained medical personnel in appropriate facilities, abortion is as safe as any other procedure. Safe abortions are carried out by medical professionals in clinics: making abortion free, safe and legal here in Ireland is the only way to ensure people in Ireland are getting the best possible care.
If we make abortion legal, won’t people have them even when they shouldn’t/use abortion as contraception?
Stats from the UK show that the majority of people who chose abortion were using contraception at the time the became pregnant. However we need to be mindful that no type of contraception is 100% effective and some types are not suitable for everyone.
Scientific research has found that legalising abortion hasn’t been shown to increase abortion rates. In France and Spain, minor increases in abortion rates happened for two to three years after it was legalised, but this was probably explained by the fact that secret abortions are always underreported. Since then, rates have dropped, and Portugal, where abortion is legal and widely available, has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world.
In addition, even when a pregnancy is a planned one where a couple is looking to conceive there are many reasons they may need to end the pregnancy: such as a risk to health of the pregnant person or due to fatal foetal abnormalities, etc.