Half of the counties in Ireland have fewer than 10 GPs offering abortion services and only four have “well-developed” networks, the National Women’s Council has found.
Information provided by the HSE, published today at an event in Dublin marking four years since the repeal of the 8th Amendment, shows “a rural divide” when it comes to access. Provision is strong in Cork, Galway and Dublin but “much less developed” in other areas.
It found over 20 GPs in Cork linked into the HSE My Options service which offers advice on unplanned pregnancies, and 10 to 20 in each of Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford.
Galway, Dublin and Wicklow each have more than 20 GPs offering termination services. Among the counties with less than 10, the survey found Mayo, Wexford, Longford, Westmeath and Carlow “particularly under-served”.
In 2020, out of 6,577 abortions in Ireland, 6,455 took place at less than 12 weeks gestation indicating they were medical abortions initiated outside of hospitals.
In all, 408 GPs now offer termination services, the HSE data shows, with a separate Irish Medical Council report showing 4,716 GPs working part-time or full-time in 2020. Among these doctors, many reported not being able to take referrals through My Options.
Dr Marion Dyer, member of Doctors for Choice and START (Southern Task-Force On Abortion & Reproductive Topics), said: “We urgently need to encourage more GPs to become providers. To facilitate this, we need to see all 19 maternity hospitals providing full abortion services to provide back-up to GPs working in the community.”
Sligo University Hospital only recently joined this group of 11, with three more expected to begin when new consultant appointments start, the HSE said last week.
Dr Dyer called for the establishment of safe zones around centres offering terminations, and for abortion healthcare education to be included in undergraduate and postgraduate core medical training.
Director of the Women's Council Orla O’Connor said: “Four years on from Repeal, it’s not acceptable that the provision of care is so patchy and piecemeal, something which is particularly affecting rural areas.”
She urged the Government to prioritise community-wide provision of abortion services to give local accessible care, pointing to barriers including the criminalisation of doctors.
“It is critical that the Government uses the current abortion review to address these issues as an urgent matter for women’s reproductive health,” she said.
The seminar also heard from Amy Dunne who was known as ‘Miss D’ during a landmark legal case in 2007 centering on the right to travel for abortions.
“I am speaking out today because I want to help ensure that no woman has to travel abroad for basic healthcare that she should be able to receive at home,” she said.
“I want to see our legislation changed so that doctors in Ireland can put the woman and her needs first and provide the care she needs without fear of criminal prosecution. What is happening today is not what people voted for four years ago.”
Events are to be held around Ireland today marking the Repeal anniversary.