Cutting abortion time limit would affect Irish women, says support group


A CUT in the legal limit for abortion in Britain to 20 weeks from 24 would disproportionately affect women travelling from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, said the London-based Abortion Support Network.

The debate about the cut-off point was ignited by newly appointed secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt on Saturday when he voiced his personal support for a reduction from 24 to 12 weeks, citing advances in medical science.

Two other members of the cabinet, home secretary Theresa May and culture secretary Maria Miller, followed by voicing support for a reduction from 24 to 20 weeks, before prime minister David Cameron intervened, emphasising that the government had no plans to change the law.

However, yesterday Mr Cameron said a reduction could be proposed in a private members’ Bill.

“Parliament does vote from time to time about these issues. It does tend to vote once a parliament or so. We now have, under this government, the ability for parliament to decide what it wants to vote on,” he told the BBC.

Voting decisions on abortion, which was legalised up to 28 weeks in 1967, are not covered by party whips in the House of Commons and left to each individual to decide. All the evidence suggests, for now, that a private members’ Bill advocating a cut would fail.

Just 1.4 per cent of British abortions take place between 20 and 24 weeks, though one in 12 of all abortions performed in Britain on women from the Republic of Ireland take place after 20 weeks, said Mara Clarke, director of the London-based Abortion Support Network.

Scans, she said, often did not take place until 20 weeks, so Irish women do not discover until then if the foetus is suffering from serious congenital problems: “So then they are faced with the situation of getting themselves organised within a matter of days.”

British research shows that the majority of all women who have abortions between 20 and 24 weeks are disproportionately young; older women who do not recognise that they are pregnant because they believe they are going through the menopause; or those in abusive relationships.

“However, the real reason why so many Irish women are late coming over is that they are trying to raise the money,” said Ms Clarke, who pointed out that abortions up to 14 weeks cost £400 approximately, between £600 and £700 after 14 weeks and £1,300 and over after 19 weeks, plus travel costs.

According to British department of health figures, there were close to 190,000 abortions in England in 2011 – a 0.2 per cent rise on 2010 and 7.7 per cent higher than in 2001, though there were falls in the number of under-18 girls. All bar 4 per cent of abortions upon British women were funded by the National Health Service.

There were 6,151 abortions for non-residents carried out in hospitals and clinics in England and Wales, compared to 6,535 in 2010 – the lowest since 1969, though Irish women travelling to Britain use private clinics and often give British addresses.

The statistics for 2011 Irish women were more likely to have later abortions

IRISH WOMEN who travelled to England and Wales for an abortion in 2011 were more likely to have it carried out at a later stage in their pregnancy than English or Welsh residents.

Last year 15 per cent of Irish women who had abortions in England or Wales were more than 12 weeks’ pregnant when they had the procedure carried out, compared to 8 per cent of women in England and Wales.

Statistics compiled by the UK department of health earlier this year showed that more than two-thirds, or 68 per cent, of women who gave Irish addresses at abortion clinics in England and Wales in 2011 were between three and nine weeks’ pregnant.

A further 16 per cent had abortions up to 12 weeks’ gestation; 511 abortions or 12 per cent were carried out at between 13 and 19 weeks while 3 per cent took place after 20 weeks.

This last figure compares to 1 per cent of women in England and Wales who had abortions after 20 weeks.

A total of 1,007 women travelled from Northern Ireland to England or Wales for an abortion in 2011. Of these, 70 per cent had an abortion at between three and nine weeks of pregnancy; 17 per cent at between 10 and 12 weeks; 11 per cent at between 13 and 19 weeks and 2 per cent at 20 weeks or over.

The number of Irish women and girls giving Irish addresses at abortion clinics in Wales and England has decreased year on year since 2001, when 6,673 women travelled to the UK for abortions.

Last year 4,149 women did so compared with 4,402 in 2010 and 4,422 in 2009.

The statistics, released earlier this year, showed that 37 girls under the age of 16 who gave Irish addresses travelled for abortions in England or Wales last year as well as 111 who were aged between 16 and 17; 295 women were aged between 18 and 19 while just over half were in their 20s; 1,289 were in their 30s; and 257 were over the age of 40. PAMELA DUNCAN