When Basic Information is Not Enough: The Case for Expanding Ireland’s Abortion Helpline

By Dr Lorraine Grimes, Aideen O’Shaughnessy, Dr. Rachel Roth, Anna Carnegie and Dr Deirdre Duffy

In 2018, the people of Ireland voted to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Irish Constitution, lifting the ban on abortion. This made way for legislation, and legal abortion became available from January 2019.  An information and support helpline called ‘MyOptions’ was funded by the state. The helpline provides non-directive counselling about unplanned pregnancy and provides the contact details for abortion providers.

While this is a huge step forward, there are limitations to the service. Most critical is the fact that MyOptions does not make appointments for abortion-seekers. In 2020, the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) conducted research into experiences of abortion care under the new legislation. The full report based on this research study can be read here.

As our article Analysing MyOptions: experiences of Ireland’s abortion information and support service reports, ARC’s survey found that many respondents were unaware of the MyOptions helpline. Half of respondents in this study reported that upon becoming pregnant, they did not know where to go to get an abortion, and a third said they did not know where to find information about accessing an abortion in Ireland.

The helpline provides the contact information of providers who have opted into the service. It was established in order to avoid the publication of a public list of providers – which could facilitate harassment – but currently only about 10 percent of General Practitioners in the country have opted into the service. Some GP’s provide abortion to their own patients but do not list their medical practice with MyOptions, so their patients would not necessarily know they can receive care from them. Respondents reported frustration that MyOptions did not arrange appointments. It places the burden on individuals to contact providers themselves, which some found stressful and time-consuming. This also creates a risk of patients encountering anti-choice providers, rogue agencies, or ‘timing out’ of the legal window to access care, which is 12 weeks and zero days on request. A small number of respondents had to contact MyOptions for a second time as they were unable to get an appointment with the provider whose details were initially shared by the MyOptions service.

Some respondents described MyOptions as useful and compassionate, while others found helpline workers cold. MyOptions is also limited to those seeking abortion under 12 weeks gestation. The helpline provides little or no information on how to access abortion after 12 weeks, including in cases where the law permits abortion, such as pregnancies with fatal foetal anomaly or risk to the health of the pregnant person.

Offering guidance to those seeking abortion after 12 weeks gestation and the expansion of MyOptions to include an appointments booking function may go some way towards improving experiences of the service.

 

Read more: Analysing MyOptions: experiences of Ireland’s abortion information and support service

Dr Lorraine Grimes is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Maynooth University. She has a PhD from the National University of Ireland Galway and is an activist on women’s reproductive healthcare. Follow Lorraine on Twitter: @lorraine_grimes 

Aideen O’Shaughnessy has recently submitted her PhD in Sociology at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests include social movements, abortion, affect and embodiment. Follow Aideen on Twitter: @aioshaug 

Dr. Rachel Roth is a researcher affiliated with the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University, Boston, and a member of the Abortion Rights Campaign in Ireland.

Anna Carnegie is a Community Manager and Project Coordinator at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is a long-time activist for abortion rights and a former Convener of the Abortion Rights Campaign in Ireland. Follow Anna on Twitter: @Anna_Carnegie  

Dr Deirdre Duffy is a Reader in Critical Social Policy in the Faculty of Health and Education, Manchester Metropolitan University. She specialises in access to health services, specifically abortion. Follow Deirdre on Twitter: @dnduffy 

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