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Abortion in Ireland

An unplanned pregnancy always means difficult decisions, but if you live in Ireland, you also have to navigate the law. Know your rights and make sure you choose the option that's best for you.

irish ferry leaving

An estimated 11 Irish women travel to England every day to have an abortion

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Abortion law in Northern Ireland

The law on abortion in Northern Ireland has something of a confusing history, and remains ambiguous to this day. Originally outlawed in 1861, it was modified in 1945, stating that abortion was not an offence if it was done to save the mother’s life. However, this new legal status only applied to abortions carried out after the 28th week of pregnancy, leaving doctors to use their individual judgement on cases up to 27 weeks.

Since Northern Ireland was left out of the Abortion Act in 1967, the laws have grown increasingly ambiguous. A woman is generally given an abortion if:

  • She has a serious medical or psychological problem that is endangering her life if she continues her pregnancy;
  • She has severe learning difficulties;
  • Doctor’s detect abnormalities in the foetus;
  • In some cases, women will be offered an abortion if they have become pregnant as a result of rape.

However, the unclear nature of these laws led the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) to make recommendations that the Government bring forward options for a clearer law. That was in 1993, and it wasn’t until a judicial review that the issue was addressed again and the calls for change were rejected.

The FPA is running a campaign to extend the Abortion Act 1967 to cover Northern Ireland, on the grounds that the law remains as hazy as ever and women are often forced into a decision that is based purely on the grounds of money.

Abortion law in the Republic of Ireland

It is currently illegal to have an abortion the Republic of Ireland unless continuing the pregnancy would endanger the woman’s life. However, the law does allow pregnant women to receive counselling and information about all their options. Make sure you choose a respected counselling service as some anti-abortion campaign groups have been known to masquerade as counselling services. If you then decide to have an abortion, it is your legal right to leave Ireland in order to do so.

Most women travel to England, Scotland or Wales where it is legal to have an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy as detailed in the Northern Ireland section above.

You should have a check-up two weeks after your operation to check that you have recovered properly. Contact the IFPA to make an appointment.

The abortion

Until the law changes, women who do not fall into the categories outlined above must seek an abortion in another country. The majority of women travelling from Ireland arrange private treatment through an organisation such as Marie Stopes or the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). These are both non-profit organisations that offer private abortions from ?350.

Marie Stopes have a useful guide with an online counselling guide and information on practicalities such as travelling from Ireland, tips on making arrangements and a checklist for your visit.

The Abortion Support Network was set up specifically to help women from Ireland and Northern Ireland to access abortions abroad. They assist with fees and accommodation.

Photo of irish ferry by Shutterstock

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Updated on 07-Aug-2014

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