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FactCheck: Nuala O'Loan corrects claim made on Morning Ireland that 90% of abortions a result of morning after pill

The former NI Police Ombudsman made the comments in a Morning Ireland interview yesterday.

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ON RTÉ’S MORNING Ireland programme yesterday, presenter Brian Dobson interviewed Nuala O’Loan about the new provisions decriminalising abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

In the segment, O’Loan expressed her concerns over abortion legislation that would now exist in the North following the changes that have taken effect.

O’Loan previously served as the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2007, and has held a seat on the House of Lords since 2009 where she holds the title Baroness. She has publicly expressed pro-life views and backed the Northern Ireland executive to stop the introduction of a “radical abortion law” earlier this week. 

In one section of the Morning Ireland interview, she told Dobson: “And on the early abortions, we have no process for the provision of the morning after pill. And probably, I don’t know, about 90% of abortions in England and Wales are using the morning after pill.”

In a follow-up question, Dobson asked about a Northern Irish resident going to a GP and subsequently taking an abortion pill who would now not face the prospect of any criminal sanction but did not reference the morning after pill which O’Loan mentioned.

In July, MPs in Westminster voted to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion in the North if power-sharing wasn’t restored by 21 October.

Despite a number of DUP MLAs returning to Stormont earlier this week in what was seen as a a largely symbolic move to show their opposition to same-sex marriage and termination of pregnancy legislation, the measures took effect from midnight on Tuesday.

Speaking yesterday morning, O’Loan expressed concerns about what kind of abortion legislation would now take effect in Northern Ireland. She questioned where public funds for the services would be diverted from and highlighted a lack of counselling services.

She also said she had never been in favour of criminalising those who seek abortions, but said limits on the procedure should be far more stringent than set out in the new system. 

TheJournal.ie has taken a look at O’Loan’s statement on Morning Ireland to assess: 

  • Whether she was correct to refer to the morning after pill in this context;
  • If the 90% figure quoted is correct.

Abortion pill

It should first be noted that the morning after pill and an abortion pill are two different things. 

The morning after pill is a form of emergency contraception that can be used to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex. Contraception is a measure before pregnancy begins to prevent an egg being fertilised.

The morning after pill can be used up to five days after unprotected sex but is more effective the sooner it is taken following sex (hence the name morning after pill). 

A medical abortion, on the other hand, involves taking medication to end a pregnancy. This medication is commonly referred to as an abortion pill.  

In Ireland, a medical abortion can be availed of up to the end of the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In England and Wales, medical and surgical abortions can take place up to 24 weeks of pregnancy but the vast majority of all abortions are medical abortions that take place before 12 weeks.

Conclusion

As part of TheJournal.ie‘s FactCheck process, we always contact the person or group whose claim is being examined to seek clarity on the source and veracity of the claim.

In response to a request from TheJournal.ie, O’Loan clarified that she should have said “abortion medication” and not the morning after pill when making the comments to Morning Ireland.

Taking O’Loan’s statement then to refer to medical abortions rather than taking the morning after pill, we can see from official Department of Health statistics in the UK that medical abortions account for 71% of total abortions in England and Wales in 2018 and not 90%.

She also said in her response: “80% of abortions were carried out under 10 weeks.” She went on to add that 71% of the overall number of abortions in England and Wales carried out last year were recorded as medical abortions. 

This statement from O’Loan tallies with those contained in the official statistics mentioned earlier in this article. 

O’Loan added in her response that it was “careless” of her to refer to the morning after pill and link it to such a high rate of abortions on the radio programme, but added:

“It is of course cause for further concern that 29% of abortions required surgical intervention.”

“Please accept my apologies for the inaccuracy which I regret,” she concluded.

The initial claim was: “About 90% of abortions in England and Wales are using the morning after pill.”

Given the statistics from the UK and the admission of O’Loan that the figure and use of language was not correct, we rate this claim: FALSE.

As per our verdict guide, this means the claim is inaccurate.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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