What the Numbers Don’t Tell Us: Irish Abortion in the UK in 2013

3,679 women gave Irish addresses when having an abortion in the UK last year; still a staggering 70 women a week, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The statistics are no substitute for 3,679 different tales of travel.

What’s In A Number?

On June 12, the UK Department of Health released information detailing the numbers of women who, when accessing abortion services in the UK, gave an Irish address. While they reported a drop from past years – down to approximately 10 women per day, these statistics do not include all the women who travelled from Ireland to have an abortion in 2013.

Women who gave a friend or relative’s address in the UK are not included, nor are the women who travelled to other countries in the EU to access abortion services.

Excluded entirely, are the (increasing numbers of) women who took abortion pills in Ireland, risking a possible 14 year jail term. There is no way to assess the numbers who carried a pregnancy, they didn’t chose, to term. The system in Ireland failed more than the 3,679 who provided Irish addresses in UK clinics.

How to interpret the numbers?

Many of the articles discussing the UK DoH statistics seek to explain the drop in numbers. In pursuit of ‘balance’ in their work, journalists have quoted the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) right alongside anti-abortion groups.

The IFPA highlight the issue of under-reporting and the urgent need for the government to provide abortion services in Ireland for the thousands of women who chose them every year. Anti-abortion groups are presenting the data as proof positive, that fewer women are choosing abortion.

These statistics tell us that 3,679 women residing in Ireland were able to access abortion in the UK last year. They tell us nothing about those unable to travel. They cast no light on any of the thousands of reasons there are for choosing abortion. Until the 8th Amendment to the Constitution is repealed and there is access to safe and legal abortion in Ireland – through the public healthcare system – we will never really know what women are choosing. Choice is an illusion for women in Ireland.

What We Need Instead?

What we need in response to statistics like this is not more debate. 3,679 is only a percentage of the total number of women who were denied abortion services in Ireland last year. Rather than fantasise about a future when the numbers accessing abortion will be 0; the Government must look at these statistics and realise abortion will always be necessary in a society where women can get pregnant.

The personal cost and individual story of each woman hasn’t been recorded in these statistics. While the state continues to shirk it’s duty of care, women continue to access abortion. Obliging them to travel or to act outside of the law (while also being shamed for their choice by anti-abortion groups and a government that would rather count numbers than listen to the stories of its constituents) has not and will not end the need for abortion in Ireland.

Abortion in Ireland must be decriminalised, the 8th Amendment to the constitution must be repealed and women in Ireland must be free to chose abortion.