Northern Ireland: abortion statistics show law failing women – 833 travel to GB in 2015

Out of sight, out of mind’ is not a viable health policy in 2016 – Patrick Corrigan

Responding to the publication of figures by the Department of Health in England and Wales which show that 833 women from Northern Ireland travelled to Britain to have abortions in 2015, Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said:

“Abortion not being lawful doesn’t mean that Northern Ireland women don’t have abortions. It means that they either seek those services elsewhere or risk prosecution under Northern Ireland’s archaic laws by ordering abortion pills over the internet.

“833 women have been forced to make that lonely journey in 2015. It was a similar number in 2014 and will likely be the same again this year.

“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. Northern Ireland's abortion law needs to be brought out of the nineteenth century and into the 21st.”

Abortions are only available in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

Reproductive and sexual health service providers have noted that the numbers for women and girls from Northern Ireland travelling to Britain for terminations is likely a significant underestimate, as many women give false addresses in Great Britain for fear of criminal sanction. The Family Planning Association estimates that “the [actual] figure is probably nearer 2,000 per year”.

To put these figures in even starker contrast, figures released recently by the DHSSPS illustrate how infrequently lawful abortions in Northern Ireland are allowed: in 2014/15 there were just 16 terminations of pregnancy carried out in Northern Ireland hospitals.

An unknown number of women from Northern Ireland induce their own abortions through the use of pills obtained over the internet.

Medicated abortion pills are internationally regarded as a safe and recommended option for terminating a pregnancy in the first trimester. Mifepristone and Misoprostol are on the list of essential medicines of the World Health Organisation. However, the criminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland means that women and girls take these pills without effective medical supervision, therefore potentially resulting in serious health complications.

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