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Donnelly's utter failure to address abortion surge laid bare in response

Abortion, which we were told would be 'rare', has continued to rocket since the 8th was repealed, and the latest response from Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, has revealed the government's disinterest in taking any new positive measures to help women with unexpected pregnancies.

6,666 abortions in the first year, a very significant jump: up from less than 3,000 which took place on women travelling from Ireland in 2018, with perhaps another 1,000 taking abortion pills. Then after two years of similar numbers, another huge jump to 8,156 abortions in 2022, while early figures indicate that 10,000 abortions may take place in 2023.

Unless you're on the 'shout my abortion' or 'celebrate abortion' lunatic fringe, these numbers are shocking and profoundly sad. They speak to a society, and an establishment, that has failed women, and failed to provide real choices.

That's why, you'd imagine, the government, and specifically, the Minister for Health would give serious consideration to measures which would help women continue with their pregnancy. Most people would agree, in my experience, that fewer abortions is better for everyone. In contrast, except for the aforementioned extremists, most people don't want even more abortions to take place.

So when Independent TD Carol Nolan asked the Minister Donnelly "if it is the policy of his Department to support measures designed to ensure that the number of termination of pregnancies can be reduced year on year", it would have been good to hear that the government was giving consideration to measures to bring down the abortion rate.

And when she asked what "practical supports [The Minister] is putting in place to ensure that the number of termination of pregnancies does not continue to grow year on year", it would have been edifying to hear that the Department was, in fact, going to roll out funding for crisis pregnancy centres and launch campaigns so that women knew that financial and other supports existed for both mother and baby.

The reply was, perhaps unsurprisingly, just a rehash of what's gone before.

Donnelly laid out that abortion was legal "without restriction" up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and also in a range of other circumstances, though he avoided saying that there is, in fact, no restriction in relation to gestation for when the baby has a life-limiting condition.

He said it was a "priority for me as Minister that those experiencing unplanned pregnancy in Ireland should be in a position to assess their options without bias or judgment".

That sounds great when you're singing to the choir of the National Women's Council, but what does that actually mean in practice? Women often undergo abortion because they feel frightened and panicked and afraid they won't be able to support a baby. Isn't taking positive action to alleviate those fears more important than waffling on about being non-judgmental?

The Minister then said that "the My Options service offers non-directive counselling and information for people experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. Information is available about all options, including continued pregnancy supports and abortion services. The ethos of the service is client centred and counsellors take their lead from the person contacting them for information and support."

But if the My Options service - which has been available since 2019 - is so effective and wonderful, why have the abortion rates gone through the roof? I've heard anecdotal evidence from women who've had abortions which suggests that the helpline does not give women adequate information or time to assess whether they can continue to have their baby.

Why is the Minister relying on a service which is clearly doing very little to stem the shocking rise in the number of abortions? Why are we not being told that the government has put together a task force which seeks to reduce the abortion rate and support women in pregnancy?

Why is the Minister not announcing special measures to assist young women who wish to complete college courses and have their babies: free childcare on campus for example, or additional assistance while studies are being completed?

Why is the state not building awareness campaigns about the help that is available, and perhaps helping women to understand that a baby is not the end of the world while telling men to face up to their responsibilities?

Instead, we're just hearing about more of the same. Clearly this is a government which is not unduly concerned that, at a time when Ireland is facing a baby bust, our abortion rate continues to rise at an alarming rate.

Donnelly also asserted, that "it is hoped that the introduction of the free contraception scheme which was launched in September 2022, for women and girls ordinarily resident in Ireland, aged 17-25, will assist in reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies", and noted that the scheme now included women aged 27 to 30 inclusive.

"Approximately €31.5m was allocated to support the scheme in 2023. Almost 2,400 GPs and 1,900 pharmacies in all regions of the country have signed up to provide services and products under the scheme to date; it can be accessed across the country."

On the basis of the early figures for 2023, it doesn't seem that this measure has been a roaring success either in reducing abortion rates, and it doesn't address the supports that women need after the baby has been conceived.

Those supports - housing, healthcare, emotional and practical care - require commitment and genuine compassion from a government which is happy to pay lip service to women's right to choose, but which is creating a system which is actually really telling women they are on their own.

The task of actually helping women with unexpected pregnancies is left to voluntary, heroic, but poorly-funded, organisations who are trying to somewhat plug the gap between what Minister Donnelly should be offering to women and what women are being told is available.

It should no longer be acceptable for the government to shrug their shoulders and point to failed solutions when it comes to tackling our horrendous abortion rate and our failure to help both mother and child.

This article was first published on Gript

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