Abortion at home

It’s inevitable that the web will be used to promote do-it-yourself abortions in countries where elective abortion is banned. And that of course includes Ireland north and south. The BBC’s early lead today woke me up by headlining Northern Ireland in its story about a clinical review of the website Women on Web. Stand by for a flood of demands to close the site down. If the usual course of the abortion debate is followed, women in need will be left high and dry yet again.

I haven’t been able to access the full review by the British Journal of Obstetrics, but perhaps they’ll post it in their public section later in the day. Both the advantages and the risks are obvious. This is a classic case of the web forcing social change. In the long term, Ireland will not be exempt from the change to allow safe, clinically managed abortion. Meanwhile the BBC story carries a cautious quote from Northern Ireland Family Planning Association director Audrey Simpson:

The Women On Web site is very helpful and reputable.

“But for Northern Ireland women, it is encouraging them to break the law – and as an organisation, we have to work within the law.”

This quote illustrates the bind the FPA and much of the medical profession are in. They can make a theoretical judgment but they cannot legally offer the therapy. Women on Web is bound to increase the pressure on the medical authorities. Is it conceivable that Irish women using this site can’t get extra help locally if they need it?

Meanwhile the FPA in GB are calling on abortion to be made more locally available in GP surgeries etc, in advance of the next Commons debate on the Human embryology and Abortion Bill.

The web story and ongoing advances of abortion procedure underlines Ireland’s isolation.

Let’s hope it sparks a new and civilised debate in the media from women’s point of view, not least on Slugger.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London