More than 3,000 British abortions for women from Republic

2016 figures show further 724 women from North got abortions in England and Wales

Last year, there were just over 190,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales, according to figures from the department of health in the UK.   Photograph: Paul Mezzer/FRF/Getty

Last year, there were just over 190,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales, according to figures from the department of health in the UK. Photograph: Paul Mezzer/FRF/Getty

 

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the legalisation of abortion in Britain and it is now estimated by the National Health Service (NHS) that one in three women will have a termination in their lifetime.

Last year, there were just over 190,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales, according to figures from the department of health in the UK.

The rate of abortion was highest for those aged 22 and most of them (92 per cent) were carried out at under 13 weeks gestation. Under the Abortion Act of 1967, terminations are legal up to 24 weeks but if there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother or foetal abnormalities, there is no time limit.

Abortions can be carried out at an NHS hospital or licensed clinic and are typically free of charge; 98 per cent of procedures are funded by the health service, according to the latest government figures.

The vast majority of abortions are sought by women living in Britain.

Highest rate

The department of health in the UK said that there were more than 3,265 abortions performed on women resident in the Republic of Ireland in 2016. This represents more than two-thirds of all of the abortions carried out on women from outside of England of Wales – the highest for any country outside the UK by some distance. Next is the United Arab Emirates with 110 procedures, according to the official figures.

Some 724 women from Northern Ireland got abortions in England and Wales in the same year.

Last month, the UK government revealed plans to provide free abortion services in England for women from Northern Ireland. The 1967 Act legalised terminations in England, Wales and Scotland but not in Northern Ireland.

Women from Northern Ireland will have access to free abortion services by the end of the year, the government said. Telephone booking systems are to be set up to arrange appointments with healthcare providers in England.

There are occasional scenes of protests outside of abortion clinics. The Catholic anti-abortion Good Counsel Network had been holding daily vigils outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London clinic, including handing women teddy bears and calling them “mum”. This resulted in the local council voting in favour of creating a buffer zone around the clinic, in effect pushing the protestors back and prompting calls for the measures to be extended around the country.

Rolling back

Anti-abortion groups have called for a rolling back of the decision of the British government to pay for abortions for Northern Irish women. Last summer, they displayed graphic images of aborted babies on Dame Street in Dublin, and outside Belfast and Manchester airports. The organisers were the Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (ICBR), Precious Life, which is based in Northern Ireland, and an English group, Abort67.

In contrast, there have been calls from pro-choice groups to overhaul the 1967 act as some women who are faced with delays in getting an abortion are resorting to buying pills that end a pregnancy on the internet. Prof Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said nurses and midwives should be allowed to give the women the pills. She wants changes to the law that require two doctors to approve a termination.

Under the 1967 Act, two doctors have to approve a woman’s request for an abortion before it is allowed to proceed. If a woman goes ahead with an abortion without that approval she could be jailed for life. Recently, the RCOG, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Midwives have called for criminal sanctions for abortion to be scrapped.