How many women leave Northern Ireland to have an abortion in Britain?

13 October 2017
What was claimed

Figures published ahead of the Irish referendum on abortion show only 43 women came from Ireland to have an abortion in England last year.

Our verdict

Incorrect. 3,265 women living in Ireland came to England and Wales for an abortion in 2016. 43 refers to the reported number of women from one hospital who came to the UK so far in 2017.

What was claimed

Thousands of women are leaving the island of Ireland to have an abortion in Britain.

Our verdict

Correct. Around 4,000 women living in Ireland and Northern Ireland came to England and Wales for an abortion in 2016. Seven women not resident in Scotland received an abortion in 2016, but we don’t know where they were from.

“We have circumstances here where perhaps thousands of women are leaving the island of Ireland in its entirety because our law across the island of Ireland is very similar, to go to Britain for abortions.”

John O’Dowd MLA, 12 October 2017

“John O'Dowd said that thousands of women are going to England for an abortion. Because of the proposed referendum in the South, they published figures today and said last year, 43 women went to England for an abortion. So these figures are greatly exaggerated.”

BBC Question Time audience member, 12 October 2017

There were just under 4,000 women from Ireland and Northern Ireland who had an abortion in England or Wales in 2016.

724 women living in Northern Ireland had an abortion in England or Wales in 2016, along with another 3,265 from the Republic of Ireland. These made up 83% of all abortions to women who weren’t living in England or Wales.

In Scotland there were seven abortions performed on women who weren’t resident in the country in 2016—although there is no more information on where they were from. But the Scottish government says that women from outside Scotland might be counted as Scottish residents if they provide a temporary Scottish address.

Altogether over 190,000 abortions took place in England and Wales last year and 12,000 in Scotland.

The audience member may have been referring to the situation in one of Dublin’s maternity hospitals, according to evidence given to a committee of Irish politicians by Dr Rhona Mahony. She told the committee that “60 women attending our service travelled to the UK for termination of pregnancy in the context of foetal anomaly in 2016, and to date this year at Holles Street [the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin], 43 women have travelled in this context.”

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland unless it is done only to preserve the life of the mother. In Ireland a referendum on the eighth amendment to the Constitution (giving a mother and unborn child an equal right to life) is scheduled for 2018.

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