An Irish-born academic who has conducted research on abortion pill use in Ireland has said that a cooling-off period for seeking terminations is “patronising and insulting” for women.
Assistant professor Abigail Aiken said mandatory waiting periods for women seeking abortion applied in the US and Britain and forced women there to still rely on abortion pills.
“As a policy researcher with almost 10 years of experience examining abortion policy worldwide, I urge you to move away from requiring a mandatory waiting period before abortion services can be provided,” she told Health Minister Simon Harris in a letter released under Freedom of Information to the Irish Examiner.
Prof Aiken’s study looked at the experiences of Irish women who accessed medical abortions online through the telemedicine initiative Women on Web.
She interviewed 1,000 women who used the Women on Web services and concluded that five Irish women a day request abortion pills online.
Prof Aiken gave evidence to the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment.
The research influenced the referendum proposals, with pro-choice advocates saying abortion was already taking place here.
Under the current proposals, if the Eighth Amendment is repealed in the referendum, women seeking a termination would face a three-day cooling-off period.
Prof Aiken, a Harvard graduate and Texas University professor, said any proposed mandatory waiting period was “out of step with female equality”.
“The idea that a woman seeking an abortion must be required by the Government to take more time to think it over is patronising and insulting,” she wrote.
Mr Harris’s office told Prof Aiken that he notes her warnings.
In her letter of March 13, Prof Aiken told the minister this delay could force women back into relying on online services, where abortion pills are being purchased.
“These kinds of cooling-off periods have been introduced in many US states as a backdoor way of making abortion more difficult to access,” she said. “For many women, making it to the clinic is a serious challenge, sometimes logistically, in terms of taking time away from work and childcare or finding transport and sometimes because of the need for privacy or secrecy, for example due to a controlling partner or disapproving family.”
“By instituting such a waiting period, and thus requiring multiple clinic trips, Ireland will simply repeat the mistakes of Great Britain, where there is also demand for Women on Web services despite legal abortion.”
Senior Government figures have said the proposed three-day waiting period for women seeking abortions in the event of a yes vote this week would act as a restriction for abortions. The no side and pro-life advocates maintain that the current plans for allowing terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy are unrestricted.
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