Peter Boylan is wrong about abortion rates going down when law liberalised

Two doctors, one of them being Peter Boylan, told the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment last week that when a country’s abortion law is liberalised, abortion rates decline. This is not true.

Abortion rates and trends vary considerably by geographic region. In discussing Ireland, we should look at countries that are socially and culturally closer to us and base our expectations on what happened there.

In his presentation to the Oireachtas Committee, professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran said: “In countries where abortion is legalised, the total abortion rates and maternal mortality have declined due to safe post-abortion care and post-abortion contraception.”

Dr. Peter Boylan added “I agree with Professor Arulkumaran that all the evidence is that the rate of termination comes down once more liberalised legislation is introduced for all of the obvious reasons.”

This might true in some developing countries but in Western countries there are plenty of examples that show the opposite.

Let’s consider our neighbours. In England and Wales following liberalisation of the law in 1967, abortion rates grew enormously as the chart below shows.

Source: UK Department of Health, accessible here.

The same happened in Scotland. Rates jumped enormously at the time of liberalisation.

Source: NHS National Services Scotland, accessible here.

The Netherlands is a country that is often presented by pro-choice advocates as a good example in term of abortion rates, sexual education and access to contraception.

Dr. Meabh Ní Bhuinneáin, answering a questions after her presentation, claimed that the Netherlands is one of those countries “where abortion rates have fallen.”

That is not correct. Quite the opposite, in the last 15 years the abortion rate has gone up, according to the official report.

Source: Minister of Health, accessible here.

Abortions rates are falling in some countries, for a variety of reasons, but not because of a more liberal regime. No country with liberal laws has an abortion rate lower than countries such Ireland, Poland and Malta, which have restrictive laws. (I have covered this topic here).

It is not the first time Dr Boylan makes incorrect claims about abortion statistics.

For instance, in a recent interview with Eamon Dunphy that you can listen here he said: “The interesting thing is that in countries that we regard perhaps as the most liberal legislation, places like Denmark and the Netherlands, they have extremely low rates of termination by comparison with the instances that you have mentioned.” He and Eamon Dunphy had been discussing Britain and the United States.

The percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion is actually higher in Denmark than in Britain or in the United States. Here you can find a comprehensive comparative table.

Denmark, as other Northern countries like Sweden or Norway, provides the kind of sexual education and access to contraception that pro-choice advocates favour and still has higher abortion rates than Italy, Portugal, Germany or Switzerland. The Scandinavian countries can be hardly taken as good examples.

These doctors need to revise their claim that liberalisation of the law leads to lower abortion rates when the facts show something very different.