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'Doctors afraid to sanction abortions amid sharp rise in prosecutions'

A sharp increase in prosecutions for abortion in Northern Ireland has deterred doctors from recommending the procedure, campaigners have claimed.

The number of terminations performed hit a record low of 16 for the 2015/16 financial year. The total has more than halved over the past five years, with 43 carried out in 2010/11.

Northern Ireland's strict law only allows abortion where a woman's life is in danger or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health.

A British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) statement said: "It is no coincidence that the number of terminations performed in Northern Ireland has plummeted at the same time as we have seen a sharp increase in criminal prosecutions for violations of the abortion law."

Over the last year three women have been taken through the courts, with one handed a three-month suspended prison sentence.

BPAS added: "This rise in prosecutions has had a significant chilling effect on the medical community, and doctors now feel unable to sanction terminations - even in the limited circumstances permitted under Northern Ireland's strict abortion law - for fear of prosecution."

Many women travelled to Great Britain to access the procedure.

Plans for legislation which would have changed the law around fatal foetal abnormalities have fallen victim to the collapse of powersharing.

Precious Life, a pro-life lobby organisation, has called for perinatal hospice care services in every hospital throughout Northern Ireland and believes that women whose unborn babies have been diagnosed with life-limiting disabilities should receive the care and support they need.

In 2015, 833 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England for abortion care, BPAS said.

The organisation added: "These are women who are resident in the UK, paying UK taxes, yet, unlike women from England, Scotland, and Wales, they are not currently entitled to NHS-funded treatment, and must meet the cost themselves.

"As we wait for women in Northern Ireland to be able to access the care they need at home, we call on policymakers in England to follow Nicola Sturgeon's lead and consider allowing these women to receive NHS-funded care here. "

Bernie Smyth, director of Precious Life, said she was gravely alarmed by the latest figures.

She said only 10 abortions had been carried out under the same grounds in England and Wales over the past decade and queried what medical care was provided and why the healthcare professionals turned to terminations.

"Could these so-called 'lawful' abortions stand up in court?

"These figures should make us all concerned that a number of women are not receiving the proper ethical treatment they need in Northern Ireland."

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