Rights groups call for guidelines on self-use of medical abortion pills

Original story by Kitty Holland6 April 2016Both the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) and Amnesty International Ireland say woman and girls must feel confident they will not be reported to the police if they present at an emergency department having used abortion pills. They called for guidelines to this effect to be issued to health care professionals which make it explicit that this would be breaching patient confidentiality. There are currently no guidelines in this jurisdiction, but nor is there any legal obligation on clinicians to report a woman or girl they suspect of using the abortion pills.Under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, however, inducing an illegal abortion is a criminal offence punishable by a prison sentence of up to 14 years.Their call comes in the wake of the successful prosecution in Belfast of a young woman who imported abortifacient medication over the internet in 2014, and a second case, due to come before a Northern Irish court on 28 April, involving a mother who imported abortion medication for her teenage daughter.Though no such case has come before the courts in Ireland, it remains unclear what a clinician should do if they suspect a woman has illegally induced an abortion. The Health Service Executive was unable to provide a comment on what its employees should do, while the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin said it would not comment on a “hypothetical scenario”. It also said: “The Rotunda will always provide full medical treatment to any woman or girl presenting for treatment.”The National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street said it had never dealt with a woman presenting after taking abortion medication so had not taken legal advice on it. “We treat every patient on the basis of medical need and our primary focus is to keep women safe and well,” a spokesman said.Guidelines for health professionals issued by the Northern Irish Department of Health last month say though they have a duty to report an unlawful termination of pregnancy, they “need not give that information if they have a reasonable excuse for not doing so…” This approach has been described as “don’t ask, don’t tell”.The Health Products Regulatory Authority says it has not, and would not, prosecute a woman who illegally imported abortion medication for personal use. However, seizures of imported abortion pills in Ireland are growing. While 28 packages with 635 tablets were seized in 2011, the number had almost doubled to 60 packages with 1,017 tablets in 2014.A year ago, in April 2015, Anti-Austerity Alliance member of parliament Ruth Coppinger called on customs in Ireland to stop intercepting the delivery of abortion pills bound for Ireland. She said the state is “adding to the misery of women in crisis pregnancies by intercepting abortion pills they have ordered and paid for online”. Further, she said:“In the not-too-distant future, we will look back in shame and embarrassment on this in the same way we now view the ban on contraception, divorce and homosexuality. The 8th Amendment is forcing women who cannot afford to travel to purchase tablets online. The interception of pills is merely forcing the poorest to go later and at greater cost.”SOURCES: Irish Times ; thejournal.ie