Pregnant women still ‘forced to travel’ abroad for abortions six years after abortion legalised

Coalition of women’s, doctors’ and human rights groups call for ‘urgent action’ to implement recommendations of recent report on abortion services

Women with crisis pregnancies are still being “forced to travel” for abortions abroad despite the legalisation of abortion six years ago, a coalition of women’s, doctors’ and human rights groups has said.

They are calling for “urgent action by Government” to ensure the recommendations in a report, published last year, by barrister Marie O’Shea – who reviewed the operation of the 2018 Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act – are implemented.

In an open letter to Taoiseach Simon Harris, the coalition says changes needed include decriminalisation, removal of the mandatory three-day wait between when a woman seeks abortion medication and when she can access it; a review of the 12-week gestational limit on accessing medical abortion; and legislation to provide for “safe access zones” around surgeries and clinics providing abortion services.

A review of the abortion legislation was mandated in the 2018 Act. Published in April 2023 the review by Ms O’Shea made a number of significant findings including that service provision was unevenly spread around the country with some regions, particularly in the west and southeast, having little to no abortion services.


It found the three-day wait was problematic for many women and there was a lack of clarity around when there was a threat to the health or life of a woman and similarly around when abortion was permitted in cases of fatal foetal anomaly.

Among the signatories to the open letter are the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Amnesty International Ireland, National Traveller Women’s Forum, the African women’s forum AkiDwA, Doctors for Choice, the Irish Family Planning Association and several academics, barristers and medics.

In their letter they “acknowledge efforts to improve operational aspects of abortion services in the past year – including 17 of the 19 maternity hospitals now providing care”.

However, “significant barriers to equitable and accessible abortion services remain,” they continue.

“These barriers include ongoing criminalisation, the mandatory three-day wait, inadequate data collection, lack of safe access zones, uneven geographical coverage, and narrow rigid legal criteria for abortion access after 12-weeks; including the 28-day clause for fatal foetal anomalies.”

They call for removal of “the mandatory three-day wait period, ensuring timely access to abortion care [and a] review [of] the 12-weeks gestational limit to ensure women and pregnant people are not timing out of care and forced to travel abroad for essential reproductive healthcare”.

Responding to Ms O’Shea’s report last year, then taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would be “reluctant and uncomfortable” to make significant changes to the current regime, given pledges made to the electorate at the time of the referendum repealing the Eighth Amendment. Other Fine Gael Ministers are understood to have similar concerns.

The coalition statement was issued in advance of an RTÉ Investigates broadcast on Monday evening examining abortion services in Ireland.

In a statement on Friday, the Pro Life Campaign questioned the focus of the programme, saying RTÉ was affording the National Women’s Council “another opportunity to push for a more extreme abortion law”.

“An investigation into abortion in Ireland must grapple with the reality that since the introduction of legislation in 2019, the abortion rate has risen significantly each year. Indications suggest that last year there were over 10,000 abortions – the highest number on record. RTÉ should be questioning how and why the numbers have reached such a devastating scale,” campaign spokeswoman Eilís Mulroy said.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times