Ireland has a very low abortion rate by European standards

The pro-choice Guttmacher Institute was invited last month to address the Citizens’ Assembly and give delegates some facts and figures about abortion. In my previous blog post, I have showed how it very mistakenly told delegates that married women are more likely to have abortions. In this post I will look at the claim that restrictive abortion laws are associated with higher abortion rates.

This second questionable claim by Gilda Sedgh of the Guttmacher Institute is based on this study. Unfortunately, the study is unreliable for a number of reasons and the authors are fully aware of its limitation: “The availability of abortion data on which to base our estimates was also uneven across regions and time. As for any estimates based on inference, this approach relies on the assumption that abortion rates in country without data are comparable to those in countries with similar characteristic but for which evidence is available.” (p. 266)

Even if we leave aside these limitations, to arrive at the claim that the abortion rate is highest in countries where the abortion law is strictest, you have to compare apples with oranges. That is, you have to compare the abortion rate in developing countries with the rate in developed countries.

For the purposes of the Assembly, Sedgh ought to have separated out the rate for developed and developing countries, otherwise delegates will have been given the impression that Ireland’s strict abortion law is actually backfiring and is producing more abortions than a more permissive regime would. This is absolutely not the case.

If she had looked at rates of abortion in developed countries only, and at some of our closest neighbours at that, delegates would have discovered that the abortion rate in nearby European countries with liberal abortion regimes is much higher than in Ireland, even allowing for the number of Irish women who go to England each year, and even if we allow for a generous estimate of the number of Irish women who might be buying the abortion pill online rather than going to England.

When we compare similar with similar, for instance Ireland with the United Kingdom or other European countries, it is false to say that highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. The 2015 abortion rate (number of abortions per 1000 women ages 15-39) is 4.09 for Ireland, 20.21 for the United Kingdom, 20.79 for France, 25.35 for Sweden.

The percentage of pregnancies that ended in abortion by selected country in 2015 was 5.02 for Ireland, 20.24 for the United Kingdom (2014 figure), 21.22 for France, 24.89 for Sweden.

How can anyone say that “highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates”?

The 2015 abortion ratio (number of abortions per 1000 live births) is 52.9 for Ireland, 261.3 for the United Kingdom, 269.3 for France, 331.4 for Sweden.  In other words, in Ireland we have one aborted baby every 19 newborns, while in the UK and France it is one abortion for every four newborns and in Sweden one for every three newborns.

Even if we generously estimate the number of Irish women who buy abortion pills on-line at 1,500 and we add this figure to 3,451 which is the number of Irish residents who had abortions in England and Wales in 2015, we still have an abortion rate of just 5.86 and an abortion ratio of 75.8.

The Netherlands is often held up as an example of a country with a liberal abortion law but a low abortion rate and ratio. However, the abortion percentage and the abortion ratio there are still much higher than for Ireland at 13.67 and 158 respectively.

In spite of what has been presented to the Citizens’ Assembly, in developed countries permissive regimes have high abortion rates.

The low Irish abortion rate is something the Citizens’ Assembly should keep strongly in mind. What happens if the 8th amendment goes?


Here you can find all the statistics:


United Kingdom