HSE probes data leaks as abortion pills still ordered online despite new laws

Abortion pills are still being ordered over the internet from abroad and are continuing to be seized – despite abortion services being legal in Ireland since January 1.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) confiscated nine abortifacient tablets, all containing mifepristone, in January, according to figures supplied to the Sunday Independent.

A total of 740 abortifacient tablets – 711 containing misoprostol and 29 mifepristone – were confiscated by the HPRA during 2018, up from 487 in 2016. The figures come as the HSE has pledged to investigate any breaches of abortion patient medical data.

Last week one woman who underwent an abortion in a Dublin maternity hospital posted on social media that after her termination she was contacted by a man who had her personal details and address, asking her to “re-book a scan”.

She later received a text message telling her to go to a clinic at an address in Dublin.

The woman said she was confused so contacted the hospital, which confirmed that it was not aware of the phone call and was not looking for her to re-book any scan.

The woman said she then rang the person who sent her the text. After claiming he was from the HSE’s official My Options service, he then verbally abused her, telling her she was “disgusting” for having an abortion and if she knew the risks of terminations.

The man’s phone number is linked to a rogue abortion counselling service and an anonymous Twitter account. The woman said she didn’t want other women to suffer the same harassment.

“The HSE takes any potential breach of confidential patient data very seriously and is establishing the facts surrounding the incident reported on Thursday,” a spokesperson told the Sunday Independent. The Data Protection Commission is also investigating.

Meanwhile, there have been protests outside Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, in Drogheda, by pro-life activists who claimed to have information that abortions were being carried out on particular days, again leading to calls for investigation of patient data breaches and the introduction of exclusion-zone legislation to stop such activities outside facilities that provide abortion and maternity services.

Data on the total number of terminations that have been carried out to date nationally is not yet available.

The HSE said there was an average of 500 calls to its My Options helpline (1800 828 010) during the first two weeks of January, with the figure falling to just over 300 last week. About 10-15pc of calls are from healthcare professionals.

So far, 259 GPs have signed up to provide termination of pregnancy services up to nine weeks.

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