“Continuing telemedicine abortion on a permanent basis puts the most vulnerable women at risk” – Mulroy

At the meeting of the Health Committee on Wednesday, 25th October, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly made an impromptu announcement that telemedicine abortions, introduced as a temporary measure during the Covid-19 pandemic, would “continue on a permanent basis” following a decision made on Tuesday. Responding to this announcement, Pro Life Campaign spokesperson Eilís Mulroy said:

“Like a thief in the night, Minister Donnelly has unilaterally changed Ireland’s abortion policy without any serious public discussion and without any evidence-based assessment having been carried out into its impact in Ireland.

“During the drafting of the 2018 abortion legislation, the then Minister for Health Simon Harris gave a public assurance that ‘termination of pregnancy services in Ireland is not going to be done by tele-medicine.’[1] Abortion advocates at the time strongly highlighted the danger of self-administering abortion pills which had been imported online without the woman having received an in-person examination. Now five years on, the government has brazenly backpedalled and has instituted a permanent telemedicine abortion regime, which puts the health of women at profound risk.

“Continuing telemedicine abortion on a permanent basis puts the most vulnerable women at risk, particularly those in abusive or coercive relationships and those trapped in human trafficking. In a letter from the HSE written in May 2022, the HSE acknowledged that ‘in-person consultations allow provision of personalised care and allow potential problems to be identified and mitigated. Meeting the woman in person increases the likelihood of the provider identifying any coercion or domestic abuse.’[2] The idea that a ‘blended approach’ (which means in-person appointments remain optional, alongside telemedicine appointments) is a solution to this does not stand up to scrutiny. A woman who is the victim of an abuser or who is being trafficked will not be permitted to attend an ‘optional’ in-person appointment and will instead be pressured to acquire the abortion pills via a faceless telephone consultation. There is no way for a doctor to verify that a woman is truly alone during a telephone call and isn’t being pressured by a third-party.

“As of March 2023, the Department of Health admitted that ‘no formal research or analysis on remote consultation has been conducted in Ireland’, and they were relying wholly on academic literature mostly from England.[3] In England, the dramatic effects of telemedicine were laid to bare in the case of Cara Foster in July 2023, who lied to BPAS about the stage of her pregnancy during a telemedicine remote consultation. She received and self-administered abortion pills at 8 months, which was 22 weeks beyond the legal limit for at-home abortions.[4] This case demonstrated the flaws with telemedicine, as without an in-person consultation a doctor cannot accurately verify a woman’s gestational stage.

“It’s clear that Minister Donnelly’s views on telemedicine abortion are blinkered by a narrow focus on an extreme expansion of abortion in Ireland. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable women will be left to fall through the cracks, and their situation made even worse by making telemedicine a permanent feature of Irish abortion policy.”

ENDS

[1] https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/select_committee_on_health/2018-11-06/2/

[2] https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/personalpq/pq/2022-pq-responses/may-2022/pq-22103-22-michael-collins.pdf

[3] https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2023-03-29/200/

[4] https://righttolife.org.uk/news/woman-released-from-jail-after-successful-appeal-of-sentence-for-aborting-her-baby-at-8-months