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Free, safe and legal: demystifying abortion care


Dr Caitriona Henchion

Medical Director, Irish Family Planning Association.

January 2019 was historic for women’s healthcare in Ireland: abortion care became legal. How is it carried out? Here, we look at the most common type: early medical abortion.

A safe medical procedure

Under nine weeks of pregnancy, abortion care is available at family planning clinics like the IFPA or some GP surgeries. This is called early medical abortion. It’s a safe procedure using medication.

Supporting you, no matter what your decision

Your first appointment is a time to get information and speak to the doctor about your decision. Some women will be referred for an ultrasound or have blood tests. This can also be a good opportunity to talk about contraception.

Some women might like to speak to a counsellor. A number of organisations, like the IFPA, provide free, face-to-face pregnancy counselling. HSE-funded counselling is non-directive, meaning the counsellor never tries to influence the woman’s decision about her pregnancy.

The procedure for an early medical abortion

At least three days after the first appointment, you visit your doctor again to take the first pill. This starts the abortion. You’re given a second medication to take at home, 24-48 hours later. This helps the pregnancy to pass with clots and bleeding.

Most women will have painful cramps and other side effects. You’ll have medication to help. Bleeding will get lighter; over the next two weeks, it should be similar to a normal period.

Two weeks after the procedure, patients take a special, low-sensitivity pregnancy test or see their doctor for a check-up. 

Other types of abortion care

Between nine and 12 weeks of pregnancy, abortion care takes place in a hospital. There’s usually no overnight stay. A woman may have either a medical or surgical abortion, depending on her individual circumstances. Despite the name, surgical abortion doesn’t involve cutting, but does involve anaesthetic.

Abortion is available over 12 weeks in certain circumstances – if the health or life of the woman is in danger, or if the foetus has a fatal diagnosis.

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