Reasons for drop in numbers travelling for abortion contested
Pro-choice groups say pills procured online contributing to decline in English abortions
In a tiny number of cases where permitted by Irish legislation on abortion, terminations are being carried out in the Republic that in the past would have required the women involved to travel to Britain for the procedure. File photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
The number of Irish women travelling to England and Wales for an abortion has been falling fairly consistently for years.
UK figures show a near 50 per cent drop since the start of this millennium, but the reasons for this trend are, like everything in relation to abortion, contested.
Pro-choice groups say the figures under-estimate the real numbers travelling, because many Irish women opt to give British addresses when booking into a clinic. The growing popularity of abortion pills procured illegally online is also contributing to the decline in English abortions, they say.
Many women may be travelling to other countries where abortion is freely available, it is also claimed.
Anti-abortion groups attribute the improvement in the figures to improved supports and better education about “the reality of abortion”.
The Pro Life Campaign claims there is probably a link “between women who regret their abortions talking about their negative life-changing experience and the drop in the numbers opting for abortion”.
In reality, we don’t know. The UK figures are comprehensive but they do not dwell on the motivation or circumstances of the women involved.
They probably do underestimate the total number of British abortions sought by women living here, but there is no reason to believe that under-representation has increased or decreased over the years.
Irish women do go elsewhere for abortions, but the numbers involved are small. The HSE says the Netherlands is the only other jurisdiction to which women from Ireland travel for abortions in any significant numbers.
The numbers there are also in decline: 31 in 2010, 33 in 2011, 24 in 2012, 12 in 2013 and 16 in 2014.
As in so many other walks of life, technology is driving change.
The use of abortion pills, purchased illegally online, seems to be increasing, if official figures on seizures of the drugs are anything to go by. These doubled in 2014.
It is also likely that better and more widespread sex education is helping to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies experienced by Irish women.
Finally, in a tiny number of cases where permitted by our legislation on abortion, terminations are being carried out in the Republic that in the past would have required the women involved to travel to Britain for the procedure.