6,666 abortions in Ireland not treated as a big story

6,666 abortions in Ireland not treated as a big story
Covid-19 figures and the gender pay gap get the headlines when the tragedy of abortion is sidelined, writes David Quinn

The figure of 6,666 abortions that took place in Ireland last year will be seared into the memories of anyone who read it because it is horribly symbolic. But how many will get to remember it because how many are aware of it?

The number was horribly underreported. Considering that it was the first ever figure produced since we repealed the pro-life amendment in May 2018 and replaced it with a liberal new law that came into effect at the beginning of January 2019, you would imagine it would have been widely reported, but no.


Several times a year, the gender pay gap is published which informs us of the average pay gap between men and women. We have debates multiple times about what we must do to address the situation. We hear about the industries in which the gap is largest and smallest, and so on. Every time a new gender pay gap figure is produced it is treated as vital information.

But when the first ever figure for the number of abortions in the country was published, it was treated as a story of minor importance. Mudslides in Leitrim were higher up on the RTE news at one point.

Let’s go back a few steps. Prior to the publication by the Department of Health last week of that figure of 6,666 we couldn’t know for sure how many Irish women were having abortions because abortion was not legal in Ireland, but we can come up with a good calculation because British abortion clinics keep very comprehensive records.

In 2018, the last year before our own abortion law was introduced, about 2,900 Irish women had a termination in Britain. Pro-choice campaigners estimate that another 1,000 to 2,000 were taking the abortion pill having bought it illegally online.

That puts the total number of Irish abortions at between 4,000 and 5,000. Either of those figures mean we have had a very big jump in the number of terminations in the first year of operation of the new law.

In fact, you have to add on 375 abortions to the 6,666 Irish women who had abortions in Ireland because 375 still went to England for a termination despite our new law. That brings the total to 7,041.

This means the number of abortions being performed on Irish women has soared by between roughly 40% and 75%, depending on whether the increase is from 4,000 or 5,000. Either of those increases is terrible.

And either of those increases is extremely newsworthy, just as the figure of 6,666 (plus the 375 who still went to England) is also very newsworthy.

Imagine if the number of abortions had been much lower than turned out to be the case?”

But they were not deemed very newsworthy or worth debating or highlighting to any great extent. How many pro-lifers did you hear on major Irish shows over the last week? I am aware of only one, Aontú’s Peadar Tóbín, on Newstalk’s Ivan Yates show the Hard Shoulder.

Pro-choice campaigners in general were very quiet about the figures. When they did comment they decided to focus on the fact that the vast majority of the terminations took place before 12 weeks, or that the rate is low compared with England.

However, the fact that almost all abortions take place before 12 weeks is entirely predictable, because that is basically what happens everywhere.

Comparing us with England is all very well, but England has a very high rate and the real point is that our rate has gone up by between 40% and 75%.

If our gender pay gap was a lot lower than in England, but going quickly in the wrong direction, that would be the most important fact.

Imagine if the number of abortions had been much lower than turned out to be the case? Suppose the number was more like 3,000? I think that would have been publicised in a big way. I think pro-choice campaigners would have been all over the airwaves accusing pro-life campaigners of scare-mongering about the number of abortions that would take place if we repealed the Eighth Amendment. I think every effort would have been made to place us on the backfoot.

Probably we would have seen headlines such as, ‘Abortion figure much lower than predicted’. How often have we been reminded that divorce hasn’t taken off in Ireland the way a handful of anti-divorce campaigners predicted in the 1990s? (Although there has been a big increase in marriage breakdown all the same.)

Our newly-revealed official figure represents thousands of lives lost…even if you are pro-choice”

The reason the figure of 7,041 (6,666 plus 375) wasn’t highlighted is almost certainly because pro-choice campaigners plus their media allies found it embarrassing and therefore it was thought better to hide it away and not discuss it.

If we had a fairer media, doctors and politicians (such as Minister Simon Harris) who insisted abortions go down when a law becomes more liberal would have been invited onto the airwaves to explain why they got it so badly wrong.

Is there, in fact, any abortion number that would have abortion campaigners pressing the alarm bell? In Britain there are about 200,000 terminations annually and that never seems to be a cause for concern.

For many abortion campaigners the figure is whatever it is. If X number of women obtain a termination in a given year, then so be it. If the Irish number is eventually 12,666 will they worry about that? It seems unlikely.

But in truth our newly-revealed official figure represents thousands of lives lost, and even if you are pro-choice, it means thousands of Irish women went through the experience of abortion that all would surely have preferred not to go through in an ideal world?

In fact, the figures show how many lives the Eighth Amendment was saving each year, because even if the increase was ‘only’ 40% year on year, that is still 2,000 additional abortions in 2019 compared with the previous year.

Multiply that down the years and we see that the Eighth Amendment saved literally tens of thousands of Irish lives.

The repeal of the Eighth was tragic in so many ways.