Today marks the 39th anniversary of abortion becoming legal in Britain. For Irish women, this has meant an Irish Journey by boat or plane to Britain to access abortion. Nowadays, the journey includes Belgium and the Netherlands.
The fact that Britain has offered this escape route for so many Irish women has ensured that Irish politicians of each succeeding generation have vacillated on the issue of abortion in Ireland. Shamefully so.
Abortion- The Facts
-The 1967 Abortion Act made abortion legal in the UK up to 28 weeks gestation. In 1990, the law was amended: abortion is now legal only up to 24 weeks except in cases where it's necessary to save the life of the woman, there's evidence of extreme foetal abnormality or there is grave risk of physical or mental injury to the woman.
-Abortions after 24 weeks are extremely rare, accounting for 0.1% of all abortions (fewer than 200 a year).
-The act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion is only legal there if the life or the mental or physical health of the woman is at 'serious risk'. There are no clear guidelines, however, and provision depends on the moral outlook of individual doctors. In 2004/05, 64 women had an abortion in Northern Ireland according to the Family Planning Association. In 2005, 1,164 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England for an abortion. Women travelling from Northern Ireland cannot have them on the NHS.
-According to the Department of Health, the total number of abortions in England and Wales last year was 186,400 (compared with 185,700 in 2004- a rise of 0.4%).
-The abortion rate was highest, at 32 per 1000, for women in the 20-24 age group.
-The rate for under-16s was just 3.7 per 1000 women and the under-18 rate 17.8 per 1000 women, both the same as in 2004.
-89% of abortions were carried out when the foetus was less than 13 weeks old; 67% at under 10 weeks.
-1,900 abortions (1%) were classified as being carried out because of a risk that the child would be born with disabilities.
-According to pro-choice campaign groups, 1.6% of abortions fit the classification 'late-term', being performed at 20 weeks or more.
-Scotland keeps its own statistics and in 2005 there were 12,603 abortions performed, compared to 12,461 in 2004.