Written Answers. - Abortion and Birth Statistics.

Helen Keogh

Ceist:

8 Ms Keogh asked the Minister for Health his views on the current available abortion figures of 9 per cent; and his views on the fact that 18 per cent of all births are to single mothers, of which a high proportion are to women under 20 years of age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8757/96]

,Limerick East): Last year, in the course of the Second Stage debate on the Bill regulating information on abortion services, I set out the Government's approach to the problem of unwanted pregnancy and abortion. I said that the Government regarded the incidence of abortion among Irish wonen as representing a serious problem. The other statistics quoted by the Deputy, in that they are to some extent indicative of unwanted pregnancies, also represent a serious problem.

The Government's approach to these problems is a comprehensive one, with two objectives — to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancies and to reduce the extent to which these end in abortion. It includes three elements.

Firstly, a major research study is in progress at present to identify the factors which contribute to the incidence of unwanted pregnancy and those factors which result in the option of abortion. The results of this research will provide a basis for the development of effective and properly targeted education programmes to help reduce unwanted pregnancy.

The second element in the programme is the development of comprehensive and accessible family planning services in each health board area. Very substantial funding was provided to the health boards in 1995 and again in 1996 for this purpose.
The third element is the emphasis placed by the Government on the importance of counselling for women with crisis pregnancies. Deputies will be aware that it is now a requirement that any doctor or counsellor who is asked to provide abortion information may do so only in the context of full counselling on all of the alternative courses of action open to the woman. In addition, the Government has this year provided £700,000 to a range of voluntary agencies to support the provision of free pregnancy counselling, in addition to funding provided to the health boards for the same purpose.
It can be seen, therefore, that the Government is at present involved in a concerted and quite unprecedented effort to tackle the problems which underlie the statistics quoted by the Deputy.