Records showing that over 800 women left Northern Ireland last year to have an abortion in England and Wales do not give the full picture of the scale of terminations, an expert has claimed.
The Department of Health in London has released a slew of statistics surrounding terminations, showing how many women from the Province travelled to obtain legal abortions there during 2015.
Among the revealing points in the data is the fact that nine girls below the legal age of consent were among those recorded as having an abortion.
However, Breedagh Hughes, director of the Royal College of Midwives NI, said these statistics mask the fact many Northern Irish women are carrying out their own abortions, or failing to register their country of origin.
The law in Northern Ireland strictly prohibits abortion except in cases where the mother’s mental or physical health is at grave risk.
According to the Department of Health’s fresh figures, published yesterday, the total number of Northern Ireland-based women obtaining a legal abortion in England and Wales stood at 833 last year.
In 2014 the figure was 837; in 2013 it was 802; in 2012 it was 905; and in 2011 it was 1,007.
Speaking of these latest official figures, Ms Hughes said: “I don’t think that is the full story. Those are the women who give a Northern Ireland address.
“I would say there’s another who-knows-how-many women who go and don’t give a Northern Ireland address, because they give an address in England.
“And I would also say that there is a growing percentage of women who are self-aborting in Northern Ireland because it is much cheaper.”
Last month in Belfast, a woman was given a suspended sentence for buying abortion pills and terminating her own pregnancy at home, discarding the foetus in a rubbish bin where her housemates later found it.
Ms Hughes stressed taking such drugs without medical supervision is unsafe.
Following the release of yesterday’s statistics, Amnesty International’s Patrick Corrigan, who has lobbied for a relaxation of the Province’s abortion laws, said: “The Northern Ireland government clearly does not mind women having abortions just as long as they’re not happening here.
“‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is not a viable health policy in 2016.”
The Republic-based Abortion Rights Campaign said that two groups which provide abortion pills via the internet “receive around 3,000 requests for help and advice every year from women in Ireland and Northern Ireland”.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion pressure group Precious Life said the new figures show “a lot more work needs to be done to support life-affirming pregnancy care centres here and the counselling and practical support available to women facing crisis pregnancies in Northern Ireland”.
In a statement, it called on the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to “step up” and promote these centres.
The figures for Northern Irish women getting abortions in England and Wales show that nine were aged under 16 in 2015.
Another 90 were aged between 16 and 20, while 679 were between 20 and 40 – with another 55 aged over 40 years.
Of the 833 obtaining a termination, 143 had undergone the procedure at least once before.
In total, 354 had a partner but were not married or in a civil partnership, 244 had no partner and 144 were married or in a civil partnership.
The bulk (604 abortions) took place between three and nine weeks into the pregnancy.
The number of NI women getting abortions is dwarfed by women from the Republic, 3,451 of whom made the trip in 2015.
In 2015, the number of English and Welsh residents who obtained an abortion was 185,824.