N. Irish abortion ban forced 833 women to British mainland for terminations in 2015

© Cathal McNaughton
Northern Ireland’s “out of sight, out of mind” and “archaic” anti-abortion laws are driving hundreds of women to the British mainland to have the procedure every year, new figures show.

The Department of Health says 833 women from Northern Ireland traveled to England and Wales to have abortions in 2015.

That number could be even higher, however, with the Family Planning Association estimating the actual figure could be closer to 2,000 every year, as many women give false addresses for fear of criminal sanction.

Abortion is permitted in the rest of the UK under the 1967 Abortion Act, but in Northern Ireland terminations are only allowed if the mental health or life of the mother is in danger.

The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan says the criminalization of abortions does not mean women do not have them.

“It means they either seek those services elsewhere or risk prosecution under Northern Ireland’s archaic laws by ordering abortion pills over the internet,” he says.

“The Northern Ireland government clearly does not mind women having abortions just as long as they are 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 19th century and into the 21st.”

Figures recently released by the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSSPS) illustrate how infrequently abortions in Northern Ireland are allowed. In 2014/2015 there were just 16 terminations carried out in hospitals there.

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

Criminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland means women and girls take these pills without effective medical supervision, therefore potentially resulting in serious health complications.

In February, members of the Northern Irish Assembly voted against proposals to relax the strict abortion laws, which would have allowed abortions in the case of fatal fetal abnormality and sexual crime.

Human rights groups slammed the decision, saying it “betrayed women and girls.”

In December last year, Belfast’s High Court ruled abortion law in Northern Ireland breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.