Rise In Abortions For Ulster Women

The number of women from Northern Ireland going to England for abortions has risen for the first time in five years, it can be. New statistics from the Department of Health in Whitehall show 1,295 women with addresses in Northern Ireland had abortions in England in 2006.

More than 200 of them were in their teens – including 23 under-16s. Just over half, 662, were in their 20s and 340 in their 30s. Eighty were aged more than 40. The total figure is a rise of 131 on 2005 when 1,164 women went to England for the procedure.

Abortion is only available in Northern Ireland where it can be proved that pregnancy would damage the physical or mental health of the woman.

Bernie Smith of Precious Life, a pro-life group which advises women facing unplanned pregnancy, dismissed the figures. “We do not take the figures seriously because of their source – they come from the abortion clinics,” he said. She said she did not believe the numbers travelling to England were evidence of demand for relaxation of abortion laws.

“Northern Ireland is still a very pro-life country. Every abortion takes the life of an unborn child and destroys women. Women we speak to have not been informed of the physical complications of abortion and the development of their unborn child. They are saying abortion referral agencies are not helping them make fully informed decisions.”

The 1967 Abortion Act, allowing abortion up to 24 weeks in England, Scotland and Wales, has never been extended to Northern Ireland. There have been calls to lower the limit to 20 weeks as medical advances help the survival chances of babies born under 24 weeks.

Audrey Simpson, director of the Family Planning Association, which advises on abortion, claimed figures on women from Ulster travelling to England for abortions were an under-estimate. “Women coming from Northern Ireland often give false addresses as they don’t want it getting back to anyone in the province that they have had an abortion,” she said. She said politicians in Northern Ireland would not “face up” to abortion and the financial cost to women of paying for the procedure in England.

Women from Northern Ireland cannot obtain abortions in England on the NHS. It costs around £600 to £1,000 to travel to England for the procedure, depending on the stage of the pregnancy.

“I have had two women on to me today. One has a 17-year-old child who is pregnant and who will find it hard to pay to go to England, but another woman who is middle class will be able to afford it. Our MLAs won’t face up to the fact women always have and always will choose, for a variety of reasons, to end their pregnancies, so their inaction is discriminating against the poor.”

According to a Parliamentary written answer by the Department of Health to the question from David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, 5,042 women travelled from the Republic of Ireland to Britain for abortions during 2006, a decrease from 5,585 the previous year and the sixth yearly consecutive decline.

Over half of women travelling from the Republic were in their 20s. Last year’s figure is much lower than in 2001, when 1,577 women from here had their pregnancies terminated in England – until 2006, the numbers were in gradual decline.