Northern Ireland

700 NI women went to England for abortions in 2016

Woman holding sign Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A woman can only have an abortion in Northern Ireland under very restricted circumstances

More than 700 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England for an abortion last year, according to UK Department of Health figures.

The number was 100 fewer than the year before.

The law on abortion is much stricter in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK.

It is only permitted if a woman's life is at risk, or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

Fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest are not circumstances in which abortions can be performed legally.

The High Court in Belfast ruled in 2015 that this was incompatible with human rights law.

A judgment from the Court of Appeal on the issue is expected soon.

Tuesday's figures from the Department of Health in England and Wales show that 724 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England for a termination in 2016 - down from 833 in 2015.

Almost 74% of the abortions were carried out between three to nine weeks, 14% at 10-12 weeks, 9% at 13-19 weeks and 3% at more than 20 weeks.

In terms of age, fewer than 12% were teenagers, while more than 45% were in their twenties.

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Image caption Anti-abortion groups oppose changes to the law in Northern Ireland

Anti-abortion group Precious Life welcomed the drop in numbers.

Its director, Bernadette Smyth, said: "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."

But Amnesty International's Grainne Teggert said the figures only partially told the story of women who seek abortions in England, and called on the UK government to commit to push for abortion law reform here.

"They don't include women who give the address of family or friends in England, or say anything about the growing number of women going online to purchase abortion pills," she said.

"Abortion must be decriminalised so women can access this healthcare service in Northern Ireland."

More than 3,000 women from the Republic of Ireland made the journey to England for a termination in 2016.

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