Fewer women travelling from NI to England and Wales for abortion

The availability of abortion pills online could help explain the fall in numbers of women from Northern Ireland travelling for abortions
The availability of abortion pills online could help explain the fall in numbers of women from Northern Ireland travelling for abortions

The number of women from Northern Ireland travelling to England and Wales for an abortion has fallen by 109 in the space of one year.

In total, 724 women from Northern Ireland made the trip for a legal abortion in 2016. That represents a reduction of 13% on the equivalent figure of 833 for 2015.

In 2016, 79 teenagers from Northern Ireland travelled to England and Wales for an abortion, five of whom were aged under 16 and a further 19 of whom were 16- and 17-year-olds.

While the campaign group Precious Life welcomed the reduction, saying that “109 fewer Northern Ireland babies have been killed by abortion in Britain”, the Green Party MLA Claire Bailey suggested the reduction was not evidence that fewer women here are seeking abortions.

Instead, Ms Bailey said: “We have no idea how many women access safe and effective abortion pills online from professional services, but recently the PSNI have claimed to have seized 100 packages and there are several ongoing prosecutions in our courts.”

Bernadette Smyth from campaign group Precious Life said: “This is proof that our strategies and campaigns are working. In the past 10 years the number of women from here travelling to Britain for abortions has decreased by a massive 54% – the number has more than halved.

“This annual decline in numbers is very encouraging. More and more women are choosing life for their babies as a direct result of the daily work of Precious Life in helping and supporting vulnerable women in crisis pregnancies.

“Seven hundred and twenty-four women felt they had no choice but to have an abortion. More needs to be done to help women in such desperate situations. No woman in a crisis pregnancy should ever feel that abortion is her only option.”

Ms Bailey expressed a different view on the figures. She said: “These statistics show that women in Northern Ireland need access to free, safe and legal abortion services.

“Until then, they will continue to be forced to travel to other jurisdictions for this healthcare and incur costs of up to £2,000 for private treatment.

“Included in these figures are five girls under the age of 16 having terminated their pregnancy. It is horrendous that they have been forced to travel away from home to undergo a medical procedure.

“The reality is that making abortion illegal does not stop women from having an abortion when they need to. It simply forces them into debt or to take risks with their health.

“The Green Party is committed to the decriminalisation of abortion and the reform of our archaic legislation.”

The Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, suggested that a similar reduction in the number of women who gave Irish addresses in England and Wales can be explained by an increase in the number of women who access abortion pills online.

Some 3,265 women gave Irish addresses in 2016 – a drop of almost 200 on the previous year.

Helen Deely, head of the HSE’s sexual health and crisis pregnancy programme, said: “Recent research shows that increasing numbers of women from the island of Ireland are making contact with online abortion pill providers.”