31 Irish women got late abortions in UK clinics last year
Published 22/06/2015 | 02:30
A record number of Irish women were granted late-stage abortions in the UK last year on the grounds their unborn baby was at substantial risk of a serious handicap.
The figures, released to the Irish Independent, reveal 31 pregnant women from the Republic had their pregnancies terminated after the UK's legal limit of 24 weeks under a special exemption clause.
This compares to 16 such late terminations in 2013 and 27 over the course of two years in 2010 and 2011.
The increased number of women who had to travel to the UK will further fuel the debate about the need to change the law here to allow for terminations in cases where a pregnant woman has been told by Irish doctors her baby has a fatal foetal abnormality.
These late terminations were not specified in the official figures released by the UK's Department of Health recently.
Those figures showed that the number of women who travelled from the Republic to UK clinics for abortions up to 24 weeks rose from 3,735 last year compared to 3,679 a year previously.
The UK's Department of Health said there are "some circumstances" where the law permits an abortion beyond 24 weeks - for example, where there is a substantial risk of serious physical or mental handicap.
"This decision is not taken lightly. Two doctors must agree on the seriousness of the handicap, while also taking into account the facts and circumstances of each individual case."
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, passed here in 2013, does not allow for terminations in cases where an unborn baby has been diagnosed as having a fatal foetal abnormality.
The coalition Government said there will be no changes to the law on this issue before the election.
Meanwhile, more details about the 3,735 women who had abortions reveal that the biggest number (1,701) were single with a partner.
Another 1,109 had no partner.
Some 666 were married or in a civil partnership and 85 were separated, widowed or divorced.
While 2,958 were "white Irish", the rest were from different nationalities including Europeans, Indians, Chinese and other Asian backgrounds.
Most of the abortions took place at between three and nine weeks into the pregnancy, with another 432 terminations carried out at between three and five months.
Some 125 abortions were carried out after the fifth month of pregnancy.
More than half of the women had no children but 1,791 had one or more children already.
For most, it was the only termination they had had; but 718 had one or more abortions previously.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar is to publish a report later this month setting out the number of abortions which have taken place here under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.
The report will also detail the reasons cited for the terminations to protect the life of the mother, including risk of suicide.
However, the HSE confirmed that a training programme for psychiatrists who may be called on to assess a woman seeking an abortion who is at risk of suicide has still not been established, despite the legislation being passed in July 2013.
A spokeswoman said talks on the training are still under way and it will be set up "in the near future".
In the meantime, doctors have a substantial guidance document.