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Customs seized 1,017 abortion pills last year

Ruth Coppinger wants the State to stop confiscating the tablets.

ANTI-AUSTERITY ALLIANCE TD Ruth Coppinger has called on customs to stop intercepting the delivery of abortion pills bound for Ireland.

Abortion Issues Pill Trains Ruth Coppinger with a packet of abortion pills. Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Last year 1,017 such pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, were seized by customs – up from 438 in 2013.

Coppinger said the state is “adding to the misery of women in crisis pregnancies by intercepting abortion pills they have ordered and paid for online”.

Screenshot 2015-04-21 at 4.09.41 PM Source: Ruth Coppinger

A spokesperson for the Health Products Regulatory Authority said each of the 60 importations seized last year would have included a number of multi-tablet packets.

“The figures show the lengths women are being forced to go to in order to try to access an abortion,” Coppinger stated, adding that these figures don’t include the women who “travel abroad to have an abortion, or who access abortion pills through friends or relatives in the north”.

“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,” she noted.

Coppinger said a bill brought forward by herself and Joe Higgins to repeal the 8th Amendment, due to be debated on 8 May, will be “Labour’s third chance to end this hypocrisy”.

Back in October, the Socialist Party TD and several other pro-choice activists brought packets of abortion pills to Dublin via Belfast, where they are legal.

When responding to a parliamentary question asked by Coppinger on the issue, junior health minister Kathleen Lynch said there are “significant public health concerns associated with the purchase of prescription medicines over the internet”.

There is no guarantee as to the safety, quality or efficacy of medicines purchased online. Medicines purchased in this manner are often found to be counterfeit and/or with inaccurate labelling or product information. In addition, any prescription medicine should be taken by a patient only when it has been prescribed for them by their medical practitioner or other appropriate health professional who has taken the person’s medical history into account.

“It is illegal to procure an abortion in Ireland outside of the circumstances specified in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, which regulates access to lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with the X case and the judgement in the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C v Ireland case,” Lynch stated.

Emergency Department Initiatives Kathleen Lynch Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Rita Harrold from Rosa (a group campaigning for reproductive rights, and against oppression, sexism and austerity) said the organisation will support Coppinger’s bill on repealing the 8th amendment.

Women face 14 years in prison for using these pills under the draconian Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act, but they are likely the most hard-pressed economically and unable to afford to travel abroad.

“This is putting them in a position where they will look for abortion pills online and may purchase from numerous websites. Some of these websites are not reputable and there is no way for the women to know what tablets they are being sent,” Harrold added.

Rosa is planning a protest at Labour’s head office in Dublin on Thursday, 30 April at 11am.

First published 16.40, 21 April 

Read: TD helped ‘dozens’ of women take abortion pills

Read: Pro-choice activists (and one TD) swallow abortion pills in Dublin

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Órla Ryan

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