One aspect of Ireland’s new regime of legal abortion has been quietly but consistently highlighted over the past 3 years by abortion providers – perhaps unbeknownst to many pro-lifers. It is the dramatically high volume of women accessing post-termination support services.

And in the context of the official Three Year Review of our new abortion laws, the whole area of support after a termination is something that pro-life and pro-choice groups can highlight, and advocate for increased provision of.

The evidence 

There is clear evidence which demonstrates the huge demand for these post-termination support services in Ireland. Here is some of it:

1) The 2019 Annual Report from the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme reports that in 2019 (the first year of Ireland’s new abortion laws) there were 2793 calls to the MyOptions Nursing Helpline. The helpline is a 24/7 phone service “available to anyone who has undergone a termination”. Its purpose is solely to provide support to women who had abortions, and over 2700 such calls were made. That number is not insignificant – for every 2.4 abortions, there was one call to the post-termination support helpline.

2) That Programme’s Annual Report for the next year shows that in 2020 there were 2146 calls to the same MyOptions post-abortion nursing helpline. If we were to assume that roughly 2000 of these calls were from individual women after their abortions, in the context of 6577 unique abortions in 2020, close to a third of women who had an abortion felt a need to call for post-termination support.

3) The 2019 Annual Report from Cork’s Sexual Health Centre highlighted an increased demand for post-abortion supports. The number of counselling sessions after an abortion increased by 50% between 2018 and 2019 (with 2019 being the first year of the operation of Ireland’s new abortion laws). 

From the Cork-based Sexual Health Centre’s 2019 Annual Report

Out of 504 “crisis pregnancy sessions” in 2019, 46.8% related to post-abortion counselling (i.e. 235 such sessions). The Centre also reported a dramatic increase in the need for post-termination support in 2018 with 157 counselling sessions then, compared to just 77 in 2017.

4) The 2020 Annual Report from the same Sexual Health Centre details that of 426 “crisis pregnancy sessions” in 2020, 44.6% related to post-abortion counselling (i.e. 189 such sessions).

5) The 2018 Annual Report from the Irish Family Planning Association describes that there was a “particular increase in post-abortion counselling during the period of the referendum campaign”, but doesn’t note how many such sessions actually took place. Unfortunately the next Annual Report (from 2019) doesn’t report on how many post-termination counselling sessions there were either. Their 2020 report does not appear to be available yet. Interestingly, the Dublin Well Woman Centre in their 2018 Annual Report also detail an increased demand for post-abortion counselling that year, which the Irish Independent described as a “surge in post-abortion counselling”.

Pro-life advocates should speak up – and pro-choice ones too

The evidence is clear – there is a massive demand for post-abortion support services. And pro-lifers would do well to highlight this need in the context of the Three Year Review. Pro-advocates, of course, have good reason to so do. 

Pro-choice people do too. Even if in your personal opinion personal autonomy trumps the right to life, abortion is still the ending of a human life, and the gravity of what happens in that procedure is not to be taken lightly. The personal, ethical, and psychological consequences of having an abortion are not to be scoffed at. Post-abortion counselling and support at least acknowledges the gravity of what has occurred. 

Despite some of the pro-choice rhetoric suggesting that abortion is normal part of life, even somewhat analogous to a tooth extraction for example, abortion can have a negative effect on women. If you don’t believe this is so, just take a look at these personal stories on the Women Hurt website. That organisation is a grassroots group of women who were deeply impacted by and regretted their abortions. Their stories are real, deserve to be heard, and demonstrate that many women do need post-abortion support and counselling.

Do something 

In an era of increasing polarisation, here is an area where pro-life and pro-choice people can ask for the same thing of Health Minister Stephen Donnelly in the Three Year Review. Abortion providing organisations have demonstrated that a clear demand exists in Ireland for post-abortion counselling and support. The need for such supports may surprise some people, but it shouldn’t surprise pro-life advocates who are aware of the gravity of an abortion, and who have been listening for years to the oft-maligned voices of women such as Megan, Lynn, and Emily.

It’s time to advocate for increased and better post-termination support services in Ireland.