CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICERS in the UK have released statistics this morning on the number of terminations that were carried out in England and Wales last year, highlighting the incidence of women travelling from Ireland to avail of abortion services.
A total of 3,982 women gave addresses in the Republic of Ireland when attending clinics and hospitals during 2012. That made up the 68 per cent of the 5,850 abortions provided to women resident outside both countries. Women from Northern Ireland made up another 15 per cent of the figure.
A county-by-county breakdown shows that at least 21 women from each of the 26 counties underwent a procedure in the 12 months. The numbers could be higher for each area as 889 people did not give their county as part of the address – and some conceal their Irish residence altogether.
The bulk of women (1,275) had addresses in Dublin, with the next largest category (320) travelling from Cork. Twenty-one women gave addresses in Leitrim, the smallest representation.
Of the girls and women who travelled during the year, 32 were 15 or younger, 92 were either 16 or 17 years of age, while 223 were 18 or 19. More than 1,000 were placed in the 20-24 age bracket, with another 964 aged in their mid- to late-20s.
More than 1,300 women seeking abortions were in their 30s, and another 263 were 40 years old or more.
Of those that travelled, 19 per cent had a record of a previous abortion but in 3,227 cases it was their first.
Gestation statistics show that 68 per cent of the abortions were carried out when the woman was less than nine weeks pregnant, with another 17 per cent occurring between 10 and 12 weeks. Just over 100 terminations were carried out after the 20 week mark.
About 80 per cent of the 1,500 women who are given diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormalities, meaning their unborn children are ‘not compatible with life’, travel to the UK for terminations.
A declining trend?
The statistics reveal a drop in the number of women travelling. In 2011, 4,149 women had terminations in England and Wales. However, figures may not be entirely accurate as some people do not give Irish addresses while attending clinics or hospitals.
The right to travel will be enshrined in law through the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. Responding to the figures, the Irish Family Planning Association has called for the repeal of Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution which protects the life of the unborn.
“It is unacceptable that women in Ireland must rely on UK health services to provide access to safe and legal abortion,” said chief executive Niall Behan. “The ban on lawful abortion services in Ireland does not deter women from having abortions; it places the burden of accessing this necessary health service on women.”
He said his organisation hears from women every day who have to leave the country to access services.
“The statistics mask the hardship experienced by women who are denied access to abortion services in Ireland. Women’s reasons for choosing abortion include financial worries, concern about the well-being of other children, diagnosis of serious foetal abnormality, pre-existing health problems, including mental health problems, and relationship issues. The decision to have an abortion is not one that women take lightly,” he continued.
The HSE noted that 2012 was the 11th years in a row that a decrease in numbers was recorded.
“Since 2001 the number of women giving Irish addresses at UK abortion clinics has decreased from 6,673 to 3,982 in 2012, a decline of 40 per cent since 2001,” it said in a statement. “This equates to a decrease in the abortion rate from 7.5 to 4.0 per thousand women aged 15-44 between 2001 and 2012.”
According to the agency, the Netherlands is the only other jurisdiction that Irish women travel to for abortion procedures “in significant numbers”. Although figures for last year are not yet available, the HSE believes the trend is decreasing and numbers remain low. In 2011, just 33 women travelled there for terminations, down from 461 in 2006.