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Over 550 people crossed the Irish Sea for an abortion in 2020

The number of Irish residents having an abortion in the UK has dropped signficantly since the repeal of the eighth amendment.

Image: Shutterstock

NEARLY 200 people travelled from the Republic of Ireland to England or Wales for an abortion in 2020.

194 residents in the Republic had an abortion in England or Wales last year, along with 371 from Northern Ireland, figures released today by the UK government show.

It represents a massive decrease on the number of residents in the State having an abortion in England or Wales compared to before the repeal of the eighth amendment – a drop from 2,879 in 2018.

371 people from Northern Ireland had an abortion in England or Wales in 2020, compared to 1,014 the previous year.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) is concerned that Irish residents needed to travel abroad to access the procedure during the pandemic.

Speaking to The Journal, NWCI Women’s Health Coordinator Alana Ryan said it is “very concerning that almost 200 Irish women or pregnant people had no option but to travel amid a global pandemic to secure vital healthcare”.

“It is very concerning that there are still key gaps in legislation and barriers to care which mean for many that abortion at home remains out of reach,” Ryan said.

Similarly, CEO of the Irish Family Planning Association Niall Behan said in a statement that “in 2020, travelling abroad became its own health risk”, and that leaving the State to access health services in the UK last year came with “heightened anxiety, stress, insecurity and expense during the pandemic”.

Behan said that the UK statistics show an “unmet need for abortion care in Ireland”.

“The pandemic has exacerbated the harms of denying abortion care. But women will still have to travel when the pandemic is over. This will still be cruel, inhumane and degrading, an unacceptable infringement on women’s right to respect for reproductive autonomy and self-determination,” he said.

The largest proportion of residents from the State who had an abortion in England or Wales – 36.7%, or 40 people – live in Dublin, while 12 were from Cork, seven from Galway, seven from Laois, and seven from Carlow.

There are no abortions recorded in England or Wales for residents of Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Monaghan, Offaly or Westmeath – however, in 85 cases, the patient’s county of origin was not recorded.

94 of the women were in their 30s, 59 were in their 20s, and 34 were 40 or over. Five were aged either 18 or 19 and two were 16 or 17.

The majority – 134 – were between 13 and 19 weeks of gestation. 11 were between three and nine weeks, seven were between 10 and 12 weeks, and 42 were 20 weeks or over.

Ryan said that the “vast majority of those who travel travel after the 12 week cut-off, which suggests that those kinds of tight windows make it much harder for women and pregnant people to access care here”.

The NCWI is calling for the 12 week limit on abortions in Ireland to be extended into the second trimester.

Many of the Irish residents who travelled were married or in a civil partnership, or had a partner – 74 and 73 respectively – while 32 were single and four were separated, widowed or divorced.

119 had previously carried a pregnancy to birth.

In 76 cases, the abortions were carried out 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 handicapped.”

“The proportion of those who are travelling in circumstances of several fatal foetal abnormalities has increased from 2019 to 2020,” Ryan said.

“Those are heartbreaking cirucmstances and really those women and pregnant people, like all women and pregnant people, should be able to access compassionate care in their own country,” she said.

The number of abortions carried out in England or Wales for women who are residents of other countries dropped significantly last year from 2,135 in 2019 to 943.

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The decrease has been attributed to restrictions on travel due to Covid-19.;

Among Northern Ireland residents, two were under 16, 17 were aged 16 or 17, and 31 were 18 or 19. 195 were in their 20s, 107 were in their 30s, and 19 were aged 40 or over.

238 were between three and nine weeks of gestation, 66 were between 10 and 12 weeks, 55 were 13 to 19 weeks and 12 were 20 weeks or over.

Nearly a third – 111 – were single, 165 had a partner, and 26 were married or in a civil partnership.

After the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment passed in 2018 and the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act, an abortion can be obtained in the Republic of Ireland up to twelve weeks.

In order to access an abortion, the patient must be certified by a GP or doctor that they are no more than twelve weeks pregnant, and must then wait three days between being certified and the procedure.

After twelve weeks, an abortion can only be accessed under specific circumstances, which are if a person continuing with a pregnancy puts their life at risk, risks serious harm to their health, or is likely to lead to the death of the foetus before or within 28 days of their birth because of a problem with their development.

A three-year review of current legislation is due to be carried out this year.

For women who reside in England and Wales, there were 209,917 abortions carried out last year, the highest number since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967.

“Most non-residents came from Northern Ireland (39.3%) and the Irish Republic (20.6%),” the UK government report outlined.

“The large decrease in the number of abortions for residents outside of England and Wales may be explained by travel restrictions in place throughout the year relating to the Coronavirus pandemic,” the report said.

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