In a joint statement the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and the Abortion Support Network (ASN) have called on the Irish Government to affirm the rights of pregnant people in the wake of new COVID-19 requirements by expanding abortion access so that no-one has to travel.
At the end of May, the Irish Government introduced a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the State, and tracking information for each person entering. These requirements have significant implications for anyone travelling for abortion, and further reveal the failings of a law so restrictive that – two years on from Repeal – people are still being forced overseas to access basic healthcare.
The quarantine requirements present additional hurdles to people who have no intention or desire to travel during COVID-19, but are forced to under Irish law. Anyone who wishes to keep the fact that they have had an abortion private will find it harder to do so, including vulnerable people in abusive relationships. People will need to make arrangements to self-isolate in addition to arranging healthcare overseas. Migrants and people with insecure immigration status will be asked to fill out a locator form with no guarantees that information collected by the State for health purposes will not be shared with Gardaí. All these added burdens and stresses to access healthcare which can and should be available at home. The imposition of a 14-day quarantine is a stark reminder that the virus poses a very serious risk to public health. International travel is not advisable or accessible at this time.
“The Irish State has long relied on the fact that women and girls can travel to England for abortion care, and even though the 8th Amendment has been repealed, we know that many are still denied care at home” says Cara Sanquest, Spokesperson for the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. “COVID-19 and the resulting travel restrictions make it clearer than ever that getting on a plane or a boat is not an appropriate way to access healthcare.”
Anna Carnegie, Spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Campaign, goes on to say “risk of serious harm to health is a ground for abortion under Irish law, and forcing people to travel overseas in the middle of a pandemic threatens their health. Therefore, medics should be supported to provide safe, legal, local abortion care to patients in Ireland.”
Carnegie continues, “people needing to travel face an impossible situation – potentially risking their own health to access healthcare. This lays bare the hypocrisies and inadequacies of our current legislation.”
Mara Clarke of Abortion Support Network reports that they are receiving more calls from people past 12 weeks of pregnancy: “We’ve already had people in Ireland contacting us asking if there are ways to self-terminate at home post-12 weeks.” Clarke adds, “The majority of people who have abortions already have children. Travelling for abortion is no longer a one-day trip, and arranging childcare is often impossible because of required social distancing.” Since the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic, ASN have supported almost 50 people from the Republic of Ireland. The need to access abortions doesn’t stop because of public health emergencies.
The current situation is untenable. The World Health Organisation recommends the decriminalisation of abortion. Ireland must fully decriminalise abortion and expand availability across the country to ensure that the access we fought and voted for is a reality.