Belfast Telegraph

Donegal could see higher rates of abortion from NI women

By Kevin Doyle

Donegal could end up with one of the highest abortion rates in Ireland despite voting against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

There is growing expectation that the hundreds of women from Northern Ireland who travel to England every year will now stay on the island.

Official figures from the UK Department of Health show that 724 women from Northern Ireland had an abortion in 2016.

Of those, 635 travelled within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, meaning they would be eligible for abortion in the Republic once the Irish government's legislation is introduced.

Northern Ireland has the harshest criminal penalty for abortion of any country in Europe - up to life imprisonment for both the woman having the procedure and anyone assisting her.

Irish Children's Minister Katherine Zappone, who championed the referendum, said women from across the border should now be facilitated in the Republic.

"I hope that by the time that happens that the Executive will have formed, that they are able to move forward in relation to making decisions themselves in terms of this issue. If that is not the case, then we're their nearest neighbour," she said. "I think we need to look at the ways in which we can offer some supports in that regard, in the same way that other countries offered that to the women of Ireland."

The situation in Northern Ireland is governed by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which was passed 60 years before women had the right to vote.

In the wake of Saturday's landslide result, pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Theresa May to begin the process of legalising abortion in the North.

However, Downing Street and the DUP have said responsibility for such issues lies with the Assembly in Stormont, which hasn't sat in almost 18 months.

Government sources in Dublin admitted that women who up to now have travelled overseas are likely to seek medical help in the South. Many of them, especially from Londonderry and Tyrone, are likely to travel to nearby Donegal which was the only constituency to oppose abortion.

Sixty-three women from Donegal travelled to the UK for an abortion in 2016.

Terminations are illegal in Northern Ireland unless a woman's life is in danger or there is a serious risk to her physical or mental health. Thirteen pregnancies were terminated in NHS hospitals in Northern Ireland in 2016/17 - three fewer than the previous year.

It is known that 724 women travelled in 2016. Five of them were under the age of 16.

As well as the women who travelled, it is believed 1,438 purchased illegal abortion pills online from one provider in 2015.

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