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375 women travelled from Ireland to UK for abortions in 2019 - an 87% decrease on 2018

More than 1,000 females travelled from Northern Ireland to England or Wales for an abortion last year.

Image: Shutterstock/Andrei_R

THERE HAS BEEN a substantial decrease in the number of women travelling from Ireland to the UK for abortions.

In 2019, 375 females who travelled to England or Wales for terminations gave addresses in the Republic of Ireland – down from 2,879 in 2018 – a decrease of 87%.

The figures were released by the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care today.

The majority of abortions (83%) for residents of the Republic of Ireland were performed under “ground C” – “That the pregnancy has NOT exceeded its 24th week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman” – down from 97% in 2018.

In May 2018, Irish people voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and allow abortions under certain circumstances.

The law came into effect on 20 December 2018, meaning that abortion is permitted in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and in later cases where the a woman’s life or health is at risk, or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

The proportion of abortions in England and Wales for Irish women under ground E – “That there is substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously [disabled]” – increased from 3% in 2018 to 17% in 2019.

In 2019, 17% of abortions for Irish women were performed at less than 10 weeks gestation, falling from 69% in 2018.

Overall, there were 2,135 abortions performed in England and Wales to women recorded as residing outside those two countries, a decrease from 4,687 in 2018.

Most non-residents came from Northern Ireland (47.5%) and the Irish Republic (17.6%).

In 2019, there were 1,014 abortions in England and Wales for women from Northern Ireland, slightly lower than the 1,053 in 2018. Current levels remain substantially lower than the peak of 1,855 Northern Ireland resident abortions in 1990.

Screenshot 2020-06-11 at 13.30.08 Source: The UK Department of Health and Social Care

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) said the figures show that not all women and girls who need abortion care are able to access it in Ireland.

IFPA Chief Executive Niall Behan said: “The statistics show what we already knew: not everyone in Ireland who needs abortion care can access it here at home; either because their pregnancy falls outside the law or because care is not accessible locally.

“At least one woman a day continues to travel abroad for abortion. These women and girls are from every county in Ireland.”

The IFPA said it is aware that at least 65 of the 375 women who travelled from Ireland had a legal entitlement to a termination under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.

Behan noted that 277 women who needed access to abortion after 12 weeks travelled to the UK in 2019.

“They include women and couples who have received a diagnosis of severe foetal anomaly and who are excluded from care under Irish law,” he said.

Behan added that the new government must ensure that the 2021 review of the abortion law “focuses on enhancing access to abortion care so that no one is left behind”.

‘Not working for Northern Ireland’

Cathie Shiels from the Abortion Rights Campaign said today’s figures demonstrate that “the compassionate care promised by politicians during the 2018 referendum has not materialised”.

“On the contrary, we have heard heartbreaking stories from those who believed they were entitled to a legal abortion in Ireland being forced to travel.

“Our new law puts doctors in the position of making impossible distinctions between “fatal” and all other severe, complex, or life-threatening foetal anomalies, distinctions that are not rooted in medicine.

“With the threat of prosecution still hanging over them, many doctors are hesitant to make that distinction,” Shiels noted.

Emma Campbell, co-convener of Alliance for Choice Belfast,said the statistics show that “the current law is not working for Northern Ireland”.

Campbell called on the Northern Ireland Department of Health to “issue immediate guidance to all relevant medical professionals on the availability of care pathways in Northern Ireland and follow-up care pathways”.

“We watched recently in Stormont as the same medically unsound and highly emotive language was used in an attempt to water down our own access to care.

“While abortion care in England is funded for many people, this does not absolve the Northern Ireland Office of their duty to uphold our human rights,” Campbell added.

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Since late March terminations up to 12 weeks, without any conditions, have been legal in the North. A limit of 24 weeks applies in situations where continuing the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the woman’s physical or mental health.

Abortion was partially decriminalised in Northern Ireland in October 2019 as a result of legislation passed by the UK parliament in London. But although women can no longer be prosecuted for terminating an early-term pregnancy, the Northern Ireland healthcare system does not routinely offer the procedure.

Earlier this month the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a DUP motion relating to the North’s abortion law.

The vote was on a motion – meaning that it cannot change laws, but only indicate support for or against a particular issue. The result does not change abortion legislation in the North.

The motion read: “That this Assembly welcomes the important intervention of disability campaigner Heidi Crowter and rejects the imposition of abortion legislation which extends to all non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome.”

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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