Belfast Telegraph

Increase in Northern Ireland women travelling to Britain for abortions

Women marched in Belfast to demand abortion rights (stock photo).
Women marched in Belfast to demand abortion rights (stock photo).
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

There has been an increase in the number of women travelling from Northern Ireland to Britain for abortions in the past year.

In 2018, 1,053 abortions were carried out on women from Northern Ireland in England and Wales, compared to 861 the year before, government figures reveal.

The increase of 192 is still some way short of the highest number recorded, 1,855 in 1990.

In June 2017 the UK Government announced that it would fund abortions for woman resident in Northern Ireland in England and Wales on the NHS.

The 1967 Abortion Act which governs the rest of the UK was not extended to Northern Ireland.

A termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

In 2018 2,879 abortions in England and Wales were carried out on women from the Republic of Ireland.

Abortion became legal in the Republic on January 1 after a referendum voted to repeal the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution banning the practice.

The UK Government has come under pressure to legislate for abortion in Northern Ireland in the absence of the devolved institutions and in response to the law change in the Republic.

Amnesty International's Northern Ireland campaign manager Grainne Teggart said the increase was unsurprising.

Grainne Teggart
Grainne Teggart

“The ongoing near-total ban on abortion doesn’t stop women needing or seeking abortions, it just forces them to board planes to access the healthcare. Women should be treated with respect and dignity and given the right to make choices about their own body at home," she said.

“It’s clear that change needs to happen. It’s degrading and insulting that the UK Government allows women in Northern Ireland to travel to receive vital healthcare services, but will not give us this same access at home."

Ms Teggart said that she didn't believe the figures told the whole story.

“These statistics don’t capture the many women unable to travel for an abortion - including those in abusive relationship and those without confirmed immigration status - nor do they reflect those forced to access abortion pills online and risking prosecution in doing so," she said.

“It’s time the UK Government changed the law and stood by women in Northern Ireland.”

In June 2018 Supreme Court judges said that Northern Ireland's existing laws were incompatible with human rights law in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.

However, they dismissed a challenge from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission over the legality of Northern Ireland's abortion law.

The DUP currently supports restrictions on terminations and has been accused of blocking change in the past.

Reproductive health charity Marie Stopes ran a clinic in Belfast until its closure in December 2017.

The group's UK Medical Director Imogen Stephens described the situation in Northern Ireland as "shameful".

"Many more women are unable to travel and have no option but to risk prosecution by ordering pills online or continuing a pregnancy they do not want.

"Marie Stopes UK calls on the UK government to stop this suffering and ensure Northern Irish women are finally afforded the caring and compassion services they deserve, closer to home.”

Pro-life group Care in NI's Chief Executive Nola Leach said that the figures were "disappointing".

“This shows how essential it is that we make sure both lives are properly supported, especially in crisis pregnancy situations," she said.

“The wider context is really important and NI’s abortion rate is still significantly lower than England and Wales.

“But we need to see a restored Executive here in Northern Ireland so elected representatives who actually represent the people of NI can introduce concrete measures to better support women during pregnancy."

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