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Tuesday, May 26, 1998 Published at 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK

Health: Latest News

Irish women flock to UK for abortions

Irish women are travelling to the UK for abortions in record numbers

The number of Irish women coming to Britain for abortions has reached record levels, according to new figures.

Last year the total number of women crossing the Irish Sea for terminations topped 5,000 for the first time.

The figures, from Britain's National Statistics Office, were based only on women who gave Irish addresses to the clinics involved - many others are believed to have hidden their true identities.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland except in special circumstances where the life of the mother is threatened. None of the state's hospitals carries out terminations.

However, since a 1995 referendum, women are entitled to receive information about abortion clinics and are able to travel abroad for terminations.

The figures showed that 5,325 women - nearly 9% more than in the previous year - came to Britain for abortions in 1997.

Abortion is a daily reality

Irish Family Planning Association chief executive Tony O'Brien said the figures provided a timely reminder that abortion was "a daily reality".

No legislative or constitutional prohibition had prevented or would ever prevent women from terminating unwanted pregnancies, he added.

But he said the UK figures had to be treated cautiously as they did not give the full picture.

"In making a judgement about the rate of increase, we don't know if the fact that abortion information is now available in Ireland has made women more likely to give their address rather than remain anonymous."

The Roman Catholic Church's counselling service in the Irish Republic, Cura, urged any woman who was unexpectedly pregnant to contact any of its nationwide offices.

Political row

Last year a major political and legal row erupted about a decision by a Irish state health board to bring a 13-year-old traveller victim to Britain for an abortion. She alleged she became pregnant after being raped.

And in 1992, the country's Supreme Court ruled in a similar case involving a girl, aged 14, that abortion was legal in Ireland if there was a "real and substantial risk to the mother", including suicide.

The Irish Government plans to bring out a discussion document on the subject later this year. Changes involving a possible package of legislation and constitutional amends are expected next year after an extensive period of consultation.

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