Almost 25,000 women travelled from Ireland to England or Wales to have abortions in the last five years, according to the Department of Health.
Figures obtained by the Belfast-based journalism project Detail Data revealed that there were 4,652 terminations recorded from women from Northern Ireland and 19,947 from the Republic of Ireland between 2010 and 2014. Some women may have had more than one abortion.
Abortion has been illegal across the island of Ireland since 1861. The law is repeatedly challenged in the courts and by campaign groups.
The data, which gives the most complete picture yet of the plight of women faced with unwanted pregnancies, shows that almost all the abortions were performed on women in their 20s. More than 200 were recorded for girls under 16 – 69 terminations from the north and 152 under-16s from south of the border.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) confirmed that 13 girls aged 14 and 49 girls aged 15 were among the people having abortions in their clinics during the period examined.
Terminations were also sought by women who found themselves pregnant close to the menopause. The oldest BPAS patients from Northern Ireland and the Republic were 47 and 49 respectively.
The data also shows that the majority of women, around 70%, had an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, while just 82 women (less than 2%) had late-term abortions, at 20 weeks or over.
The cost of abortion ranged from £400 to £1,500, not including travel and accommodation costs.
One abortion provider told Data Detail that some women who travelled for late-term abortions in cases involving fatal foetal abnormalities decided to take the baby’s remains home for burial.
The most popular place for women coming from Ireland seeking an abortion was Manchester, where a Marie Stopes clinic in the south of the city accounted for a third of terminations recorded.
Flights to Manchester are short and cheaper than flights to London, as is the cost of treatment.
Liverpool, accessible by ferry and air, was the second most popular destination and London the third, with more than 3,000 terminations across 10 clinics.
The Republic of Ireland’s abortion law was recently changed to make it available in limited circumstances, where the pregnancy presents a real and substantial risk to the mother’s life. In Northern Ireland terminations are only available if a woman’s life is at risk or where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health.
Last month Belfast’s high court ruled that Northern Ireland’s current abortion law is incompatible with human rights.
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