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Northern Ireland girls as young as 13 seeking abortions in England

 

By Victoria leonard

Children as young as 13 have travelled from Northern Ireland to England to access abortions, it has emerged.

The revelation, by voluntary group The Abortion Support Network, came as newly-released statistics by the Department of Health in England show that 724 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England or Wales for abortions in 2016 - equivalent to nearly two a day. The figures show a decrease from 2015, when 833 women from Northern Ireland travelled for abortions.

In 2016, there were 4,810 abortions performed on non-residents in England and Wales. Of these, just over 15% hailed from Northern Ireland and nearly 68% (3,265) from the Irish Republic.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of abortions for women travelling from Northern Ireland were carried out at three to nine weeks' gestation, with 78% never having undergone a previous abortion.

Some 46% of women accessing abortion services from here were single, while the same percentage were married or in a civil partnership.

The greatest number were aged 20 to 24 (24%).

Five abortions were performed on children under 16. Medical disorders of the nervous system, congenital malformations and chromosomal abnormalities were cited 15 times.

Women in Northern Ireland and the Republic are not entitled to free abortions on the NHS in England.

Since the 1967 Abortion Act was not extended to Northern Ireland, women here only have access to terminations under the 1945 Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Act. This specifies that a woman's life must be at risk, or there must be a "real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health" which is long-term or permanent.

Department of Health NI figures show there were 16 terminations in NHS hospitals in Northern Ireland in 2015/16.

In March, the PSNI carried out raids connected to the illegal purchase of abortion pills online.

Today, the Supreme Court will rule on a challenge which aims to make abortion available on the NHS in England for women from Northern Ireland.

Founder of the Abortion Support Network, Mara Clarke, whose organisation provides financial assistance to women from Northern Ireland, the Republic and Isle of Man travelling to England for abortions, says the decrease in women travelling for abortions is due to the use of abortion pills.

"The numbers tell you who gave a Northern Irish address, not who was staying with a relative, at a hotel, or gave a fake address," she said.

"The number of people from Northern Ireland seeking our help went up by 14%, starting the day after prosecutions against people taking abortion pills began. Since 2010 we have helped two 13-year-olds, 14 14-year-olds, 22 15-year-olds and 33 16-year-olds from Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands - and some of the youngest ones came from Northern Ireland.

"We help people from 13 to 52 years of age. There have been cases of rape or incest, and one client was raped by a family member who was trying to 'cure' her of being gay."

Elaine Crory from Alliance for Choice said Northern Ireland is "exporting its problem".

"The current situation provides very limited availability for abortion. There should be legislation to make safe abortions available in Northern Ireland so patients can go to their own GP. The situation causes distress and is expensive, so it's a class issue."

Dawn McAvoy from Both Lives Matter said: "In terms of Northern Ireland, there is a 13% drop in the number of women travelling from here. This is a welcome reduction."

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