Almost 150 girls went to UK for abortions in 2011
ALMOST 150 Irish minors travelled to England or Wales for legal abortions last year, according to statistics published yesterday by the UK department of health.
The figures show 37 girls under the age of 16 who travelled to England or Wales for an abortion gave an address in the Republic – a 10 per cent drop compared to 2010 statistics.
A further 111 girls between the ages of 16 and 17 travelled for abortions – a 3.5 per cent drop on statistics for the previous year.
The overall number of females travelling to England and Wales for abortions dropped for the 10th year in a row, from 4,402 in 2010 to 4,149 last year, a 7 per cent decrease. More than half that number were women in their 20s; 1,289 were in their 30s; and 257 were over the age of 40.
Niall Behan, chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association, welcomed the reduction, particularly among teenagers.
“We’re putting that down to improved access to sexual health education in schools and more generally . . . but also access to contraception, particularly emergency contraception,” he said, noting the morning-after pill has been available without prescription in Irish pharmacies since last February.
Mr Behan noted there had always been the question of under-reporting of the issue, along with that of Irish women travelling to other jurisdictions for abortions.
The Health Service Executive Crisis Pregnancy Programme, formerly the crisis pregnancy agency, noted that between 2001 and 2011 the number of women giving Irish addresses at UK abortion clinics dropped from 6,673 to 4,149. Programme director Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe said it was important all women were aware post-abortion medical check-ups and post-abortion counselling were available free of charge to women on their return to Ireland.
The programme gathers data on the number of women travelling from Ireland to countries other than the UK for abortion procedures. A HSE spokeswoman said the Netherlands had emerged as the only other jurisdiction to which women from Ireland were travelling in significant numbers for abortion procedures.
Figures for those travelling to the Netherlands in 2011 are not yet available, but preliminary indications suggest the number is low and decreasing. The number of women heading for clinics in the Netherlands stood at 461 in 2006; 451 in 2007; 351 in 2008; 134 in 2009; and 31 in 2010.
In a response to an Irish Times query to the Spanish health ministry, a spokeswoman said it expected the number of Irish women recorded as having had abortions in Spain last year to be about 30 – similar to previous years.
Speaking at an event at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin yesterday to mark Sexual Health Awareness week, Minister for Health James Reilly said yesterday’s figures were “of great concern”.
He added: “I’m told by some of the experts here today that some schools are not taking up the option of allowing sexual health education to take place in school.
“I regret that and I certainly will be talking to Minister Ruairí Quinn about it and how to address that because I think it is wrong to deprive young people of essential information in relation to their well-being and health.”
The Minister refused to be drawn on whether he felt that the question of legalising abortion should now be revisited.