A SIGNIFICANT number of Irish women are having very late abortions in the UK because their child will suffer some form of disability, the Irish Independent has learnt.
They are having the abortions after the normal legal limit of 24 weeks into their pregnancy under a special exemption, health authorities confirmed.
A British parliament inquiry next week will learn that 27 women from the Republic had these late abortions in 2010 and 2011 on the grounds that the foetus they were carrying was at risk of physical or mental disability.
The little-known section of the 1967 abortion legislation means that the upper limit of 24 weeks can be set aside and the foetus can be terminated "up to birth" if tests indicate the child will have a disability.
The Department of Health in the UK had to be challenged in court to reveal the numbers of women having these late abortions after an outcry in 2002 when it emerged one termination was carried out on a foetus with cleft lip and palate.
The department did not disclose the disability grounds put forward by the women from Ireland who had the terminations over the two years.
An abortion must be agreed to by two doctors and carried out by a medical practitioner in a government-approved hospital or clinic.
They are among 293 women who were allowed the late abortions in the UK during the two years.
However, the controversial Ground E clause in the abortion law is to become the subject of an inquiry next week in the British parliament amid concerns that babies are being aborted for conditions, which are now treatable.
The concern is that the definition is so broad it can include a range of conditions from minor to life-threatening disability.
The chair of the group, Fiona Bruce MP, pictured above, said it aims to establish whether there is room for a review of the legislation given medical advances and developments in services since the late 1960s.
Ms Bruce said: "My son has a club foot, which is a disability under the present law of the land and permits abortion up to birth, but it is now an entirely correctable defect."
Most Irish women, who have abortions in the UK, undergo the terminations within the 24-week limit.
The latest figures show that 4,149 Irish women had abortions in UK clinics in 2011, although a number of others would have gone to countries such as the Netherlands.