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Over 4,600 Northern Ireland women travelled to have an abortion in last five years

By Victoria O'Hara

More than 4,600 women from Northern Ireland had abortions in England and Wales in the past five years, figures have revealed.

In total, there were 4,652 terminations for women from Northern Ireland and 19,947 for women from the Republic.

That means there were almost 25,000 abortions for women from the island of Ireland in the past five years - an average of nearly 100 every week.

However, the real number could be much higher as not all women give addresses to clinics.

The figures collated by The Detail website and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) confirmed 13 14-year-olds and 49 15-year-olds had abortions in the same timeframe. The oldest BPAS patient from Northern Ireland was 47, and the oldest from the Republic was 49.

The cost of abortions for women travelling to England and Wales ranges from £400 to £1,500 for the treatment alone, with travel and accommodation extra.

Almost half (45%) of the abortions involving women from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland took place in Manchester, 30% of them at a Marie Stopes centre in the city.

A number of women travelling for abortions after 20 weeks' gestation - in cases involving fatal foetal abnormalities - decided to carry their baby's remains on flights for burial at home.

Some requested permission from airline companies to bring the remains on the flight, but others said that they had hoped they would not be discovered while travelling.

There were 23 legal terminations of pregnancies carried out in Northern Ireland's hospitals and clinics during the 2013/14 financial year.

Unlike other parts of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply here, where abortions are banned except where the life or mental health of the mother is in danger.

High Court judge Mr Justice Horner is currently considering whether existing legislation can be interpreted to allow abortions in limited cases or whether new legislation needs to brought before the Assembly. The decision may also be subject to appeal.

Reacting to the latest figures, Amnesty International said abortion legislation in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland fell short of the minimum standards required by international human rights law.

Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, added: "The laws violate the human rights of women and girls, forcing those who can travel to go overseas and seek compassionate, professional care outside their own country.

"It is now time for governments north and south to end the hypocrisy of laws which criminalise women at home and don't even meet their stated aim of preventing abortions.

"The authorities can no longer turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses caused by those very same laws."

Amnesty International's My Body, My Rights campaigner Grainne Teggart said the findings proved that restrictive abortion laws across the island of Ireland did not prevent women travelling to England and Wales for terminations.

"Abortions not being lawful doesn't mean that women and girls don't have abortions," she added. "It means that they either resort to desperate, sometimes dangerous, measures or they seek those services elsewhere at great financial and emotional expense."

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