Organisation calls on Minister Simon Harris to enact legislation on Exclusion Zones to protect women accessing services
The Dublin Well Woman Centre is ready to begin providing early medical abortion services in its clinics from Wednesday 9thJanuary, but has called on the Minister for Health to prioritiselegislation on Exclusion Zones around service providers.
The Dublin Well Woman Centre has been receiving enquiries from women since early December, who wish to be able to avail of abortion services in Ireland, instead of having to travel or access medication illegally online. Since the start of January, it has received at least a dozen calls daily to each of its clinics from women asking about appointments.
Alison Begas, Chief Executive of the Dublin Well Woman Centre, said “Since last May’s decisive referendum result, we have worked hard towards being able to provide services. We know women will turn to the Dublin Well Woman Centre for support around unplanned pregnancy – as they have done for over 40 years – and as pioneers in women’s health we’re proud to be in a position to provide abortion care to women in Ireland.”
Ms Begas went on to recognise the extremely tight time frame, defined by Minister for Health Simon Harris, in which the service had been developed:
“The Dublin Well Woman Centre’s committed clinic employees are ready to deliver this service, and we have put in place the necessary procedures and policies. We now need the Department of Health and HSE to ensure that the remaining necessary back-ups are in place; women seeking abortion must be able to have timely access, and not encounter unnecessary barriers that cause further distress.”
Many operational processes have been put in place by the HSE in order for the Dublin Well Woman Centre to be able to start providing abortion care – including ordering of the medication, and access to ultrasound scanning and to anti-D clinics in maternity hospitals. Most important is the referral pathway.
“The Dublin Well Woman Centre will be providing early medical abortions up to 9 weeks’ gestation. If a woman has her first consultation with one of our doctors, and she is between 9 and 12 weeks pregnant, we will need to refer her to a maternity hospital for care.”
“There was concern over ‘catchment areas’ in the Dublin-based maternity hospitals. From our experience in providing women’s healthcare, we know that women attend the Dublin Well Woman Centre from all parts of Ireland to access our specialised services. We needed to know with certainty that we can send Rhesus blood samples from these patients for analysis, and also be able to refer them into a Dublin maternity hospital for anti-D, or for treatment should their pregnancy be over 9 week’s gestation. This has now been clarified by the HSE,” said Ms Begas.
She went on to call on Minister Simon Harris to enact legislation on Exclusion Zones as soon as possible. Women seeking to access healthcare to vindicate a private decision, and the healthcare professionals providing those services, should not be subjected to harassment.
Jan Richards, Chairwoman of the Dublin Well Woman Centre, welcomed the fact that the organisation is now ready to provide free, safe and legal abortion care for women and girls in Ireland.
“The Dublin Well Woman Centre has always been about supporting women, and empowering them in their reproductive decisions. For over forty years, we have advocated and campaigned to bring about full reproductive healthcare in Ireland. For our younger patients, it is hard to imagine, but contraception was essentially illegal when the Dublin Well Woman Centre started in 1977.”
The Dublin Well Woman Centre will continue to provide non-directive crisis pregnancy counselling, after-abortion counselling, and after-abortion medical check-ups, in its clinics to women having early medical abortions.
Ms Richards added: “Even with the legalising of free and safe abortion services in Ireland, we know that some women will have to continue to travel outside this country to access an abortion, as they will fall outside the provisions of the legislation. Our counsellors will continue to support women who wish to discuss their decision, or their experience of abortion, in a non-judgemental space.”
The Dublin Well Woman Centre was founded in 1977, with the aim of giving women in Ireland access to information and services around contraception, at a time when it was largely illegal. In the 1980s and 1990s the organisation fought a number of court cases at the High Court and Supreme Court, eventually winning (at the European Court of Human Rights) the right to give women information on abortion. The organisation now offers a comprehensive range of women’s and reproductive health services, including contraception, cervical and STI screening, PMS and Menopause clinics, and fertility investigations. It operates three clinics in Dublin, which will begin taking appointments for abortion care on Wednesday, 9thJanuary 2019.