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British group launches helpline for women in Ireland who buy abortion pills online

The British Pregnancy Advice Service is concerned that, because they are committing an illegal act, women may not always seek help.

Briana O'Doherty, from Tallaght at Connolly station, Dublin, after she took a train with other pro-choice campaigners from Dublin to Belfast to bring back abortion pills unavailable in the Republic of Ireland.
Briana O'Doherty, from Tallaght at Connolly station, Dublin, after she took a train with other pro-choice campaigners from Dublin to Belfast to bring back abortion pills unavailable in the Republic of Ireland.
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE BRITISH PREGNANCY Advisory Service (BPAS) has launched a free telephone aftercare helpline for women in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man who have bought abortion medication online.

In a statement released today, BPAS said many women buy pills online as access to abortion in these areas “is currently highly restricted, meaning women who cannot travel for abortion treatment have no choice”.

The confidential nurse-led telephone service – which can be contacted on 1800 910 049 - will offer advice to women who have bought pills from the online not-for-profit clinics run by Women Help Women (WHW) and Women on Web (WOW).

Women who are concerned about symptoms or “simply want to speak to someone” can contact the helpline.

The statement notes that these services “provide the same high quality, safe medications to women who are up to 10 weeks pregnant that are provided from BPAS clinics”.

While adverse events are extremely unlikely, BPAS is concerned that because they are committing an illegal act, women may not always seek help when they need it.

Women who receive treatment at BPAS clinics are able to call the helpline 24 hours a day all-year round, and this service is now being extended to include women in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Early medical abortion involves taking two sets of medications: mifepristone and misoprostol.

download Pro-Life Campaign’s Cora Sherlock and AAA/PBP TD Ruth Coppinger on Tonight with Vincent Browne. Source: TV3.ie

BPAS noted that WHW and WOW “already provide women with comprehensive information about what to expect and when to seek help”.

“The BPAS aftercare telephone line provides another option for those women who wish to speak to someone or who need immediate help.

Women will be able to seek reassurance on the telephone about levels of bleeding, what to do if it appears nothing has happened, and when care should be accessed urgently. On the very rare occasion we believe emergency help is required, we will also call an ambulance.

BPAS said women who have purchased online medication from services not provided by WHW and WOW will be advised to seek medical help immediately.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said:

What these women really need are accessible, high quality abortion services at home. They shouldn’t have to make the choice between travelling to England and breaking the law by purchasing pills online.

Kinga Jelinska, executive director of WHW, said that while “most women are very satisfied with an online service”, the helpline will provide “direct support for women who may want clinical reassurance in the case of a possible complication”.

‘Stunt’ 

The Life Institute has said that BPAS would be “better served helping women to have their babies than spending money on trying to interfere in Ireland’s laws on abortion”.

Spokesperson Niamh Ui Bhriain described the BPAS announcement as “a stunt designed to promote abortion rather than a genuine effort to help women”.

“Clearly, if BPAS was actually concerned here they would ask WHW and WOW, their partners in crime here, to stop their actions. Instead they want to provide a phone line to advise women who are in need of help precisely because they have taken an illegal abortion pill.

“Maybe they would consider putting this time and money into actually helping women, who are all too often seeking abortion in fear and panic, have their babies and raise their babies,” she said.

The Eighth Amendment 

In October 2014, pro-choice activists travelled from Dublin to Belfast by train and back again, bringing packs of abortion pills into the Republic.

In October 2015, activists including Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit (AAA/PBP) TD Ruth Coppinger delivered abortion pills to women across the country as part of a campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment – the section of the Irish Constitution that gives the right of life for the unborn equal status to the right to life of the mother.

At the time, the Irish Pro-Life Campaign criticised the move, calling it “an irresponsible stunt”.

Voting Pro-Life are L to R Kathryn Freney, Paula F Pro-Life campaigners outside Leinster House earlier this year. Source: RollingNews.ie

“This is just the latest publicity stunt from Deputy Coppinger. But it is an incredibly dangerous and irresponsible one that puts the lives of women at serious risk.

“Those lending their support to the abortion pill bus have no credibility talking about women’s health in the context of the abortion debate going forward,” spokesperson Ruth Cullen said.

A Citizens’ Assembly due to be convened in October will discuss holding a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Read: FactCheck: What do HSE guidelines actually say about the effects of abortion?

Read: Health Minister says it was “important” to respond to women who live-tweeted their abortion journey

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