The number of medical card holders taking oral contraceptives has more than doubled since 2009, according to the HSE.
However, both the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) and the Pro Life Campaign say that the rise in the number of women taking contraceptives does not account for the fall in the numbers travelling to the UK for an abortion.
The HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Service makes payments to pharmacies for drugs issued to those on the GMS Scheme and the Drugs Payment Scheme (DPS).
Its 2009 annual report shows it paid out for 135,084 prescriptions of the combination contraceptive of Levonorgestrel and Estrogen.
However, the 2014 report shows it was prescribed 271,943 times.
A HSE spokesperson said that within the DPS, the HSE incurs and reports only that expenditure over the monthly family threshold of €144.
The most recent figures on women with Irish addresses who had an abortion in the UK has shown a decline on previous years, a continuing trend that has seen the overall figure reduce 48% since 2001 to 3,451.
However, both the IFPA and the Pro-Life Campaign say the increase in the numbers taking oral contraception is not necessarily the driving force behind the decline in abortions.
“Increased access to contraception, including the availability of emergency contraception in pharmacies, is likely to have contributed to the decrease in the number of women and girls in Ireland travelling to the UK for abortion services,” Niall Behan, chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association said.
“However, the UK statistics do not capture the full picture. While it is impossible to quantify the extent of their use, the IFPA knows from its services that women who cannot travel for abortion services are increasingly accessing the abortion pill online.
“Our experience echoes the findings of a major report published recently by the World Health Organisation and the Guttmacher Institute that data on abortion in Ireland is underestimated. This study also found that abortion rates in developed countries are at a historic low, largely due to increased use of contraception that has given women greater control over the timing and number of children they want.
“Significantly, the study also found that restrictive laws rarely stop women from having abortions but, as the IFPA knows from our clients, such laws do harm women’s health,” Mr Behan said.
Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign said experiences in the UK suggest an increase in the use of contraceptives does not mean declining abortion rates, and that there is “no hard evidence” to show the availability of contraception has contributed to the decline of the numbers of Irish seeking an abortion in the UK.
Asked for the Pro Life Campaign’s policy on the Morning After Pill, Ms Sherlock said the group “seeks to protect human life at all stages as far as practicable, in keeping with the 8th Amendment.”
“Where it could be shown that a particular drug was acting as an abortifacient, we would have obvious concerns like everyone should. Drug companies don’t market the Morning After Pill as having an abortifacient effect, but there has been an ongoing debate on this matter.
“It is a healthy thing that this debate continue given the seriousness of the issue.”
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