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Slight fall in number of women travelling to UK for abortion

Published 17/05/2016

Abortion is banned in Ireland under the eighth amendment to the Constitution
Abortion is banned in Ireland under the eighth amendment to the Constitution

There has been a slight fall in the number of women travelling from Ireland to Britain for an abortion, official figures have revealed.

Records from UK health chiefs showed 3,451 women gave addresses in Ireland - almost 10 a day - while attending clinics in England and Wales last year.

The report showed there has been a 48% decline in the numbers travelling to terminate a pregnancy since 2001.

Helen Deely, head of the Health Service Executive's crisis pregnancy programme, said the reduction was welcome - but cautioned about the dangers of using abortion pills bought on the internet.

"It appears that the abortion rate is stabilising," she said.

"It declined relatively rapidly between 2001 and 2007. In recent years the decline has been more gradual."

The HSE said a survey it had carried out on crisis pregnancy revealed 73% of expectant mothers decided to become a parent, 24% had an abortion and 1% chose adoption. The remainder reported that they had a miscarriage or were currently pregnant.

But Ms Deely warned about the risks to a woman's health by using drugs bought online to terminate a pregnancy.

"If a woman makes the decision to have an abortion, it is safer for her to attend an abortion clinic in the UK or other country where abortion is legally available, than ordering the abortion pill online or from other sources and taking it at home alone," she said.

"If a woman takes the abortion pill and has prolonged heavy bleeding, bad pain, fainting, or other complications, it is important that she attends an emergency department or GP straight away".

Ms Deely also said women need to know they can get free post-abortion medical check-ups and counselling in Ireland.

Separate figures from the Netherlands - the only other jurisdiction women from Ireland travel for abortion procedures in any significant numbers - showed numbers also falling from 31 in 2010 to 16 in 2014.

There are no records kept on women who travel from the Republic to abortion clinics in Northern Ireland to avail of a termination in limited circumstances.

Abortion is banned in Ireland under the eighth amendment to the Constitution, but a pregnancy may be terminated if there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother including from suicide.

The UK Department of Health figures showed 6,673 women with an address in Ireland travelled for an abortion in 2001.

The numbers fell rapidly to below 5,000 in 2007 and again to below 4,000 in 2012.

The report showed 3,679 women travelled in 2013 and 3,735 in 2014.

Detail on the women who travelled from Ireland to England and Wales last year showed 18 were aged under 16.

Some 46% of women who gave Irish addresses were aged in their 20s and 37% were in their 30s.

The report showed 2,374 of the abortions were carried out in the first nine weeks of the pregnancy and 112 were carried out after 20 weeks or more.

Some 644 women were married or in a civil partnership and 916 were single.

The UK Department of Health said that 135 abortions were carried out after a risk was identified that the child would be born " seriously handicapped".

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) said the report does not reflect the actual number of women and girls in Ireland who have abortions and it claimed the use of abortion pills bought online is increasing.

Chief executive Niall Behan said: "We cannot be complacent about this decrease.

"While it is impossible to quantify the extent of their use, abortion pills accessed online have had a significant impact on the decline in the number of women in Ireland seeking abortion services in the UK."

The IFPA called for laws to be reformed to protect women's reproductive health and ensure high quality sex education, contraceptive and abortion services.

Cora Sherlock, of the Pro-Life Campaign, said: "The further decline in the number of women travelling for an abortion is a positive development, particularly when you consider the serious adverse psychological effects of abortion for many women that are swept under the carpet far too much in public debate."

Ms Sherlock rejected the claim that an increasing use of abortion pills has had a part to play in reducing the number of women travelling for an abortion.

Choice Ireland said the UK figures showed a referendum is needed in Ireland to repeal the eighth amendment.

Spokeswoman Stephanie Lord said: "The British abortion statistics report reinforces the fact that women in Ireland are having abortions every day regardless of what the actual law of this land is and there is now clearly an onus on the government to get on with the business of ensuring our health care service is fit for purpose and move to hold a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment."

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