The Citizens' Assembly has been told that over 3,000 women travel annually from the Republic to Britain for abortions and that they tend to have their terminations later and to experience more isolation than British-based women.

A British consultant in foetal medicine, Peter Thompson from Birmingham Women's and Children's Hospital, told the Assembly that official figures indicate that 3,451 women from Ireland travelled to England or Wales for an abortion in 2015. Of this figure, 135 were due to a foetal abnormality.

Patricia Lohr, Medical Director of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, told the assembly that women from Ireland have terminations at higher gestational ages compared with women from the United Kingdom.

She said this was a reflection of the time it took to muster the necessary resources to afford to travel.

Irish women are also more likely to have surgical abortions rather than medical abortions which involve taking pills over several days.

She said Irish women also had a smaller circle of trust and are concerned about the stigma of having had a termination.

Typically, they will spend about €1,500 to pay for the procedure and travel, she said.

This weekend sees the Citizens' Assembly's third, two-day sitting dealing with the constitutional restrictions on abortion.

The Assembly has two more sittings over the next three months after which it will advise legislators on what to do about abortion in this jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, the Assembly has heard that pro-life views seem to have dominated the more than 13,000 submissions received by the body on constitutional restrictions on abortion here.

The Pro Life Campaign has accused the Citizens' Assembly of completely ignoring in its deliberations to date what it calls the positive impact of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution on Irish society.

The campaign group has also expressed concern over what it terms "a lack of balance in the selection of speakers at the assembly" and called for almost the entirety of the final sittings on abortion to be devoted to that side of the debate. 

The Pro Life Campaign said that not a single day of the six assigned to the controversial deliberations has focused on what the Eighth Amendment has achieved in terms of protecting human life and dignity. 

Commenting on the topics and speakers slated for this weekend's discussions by the assembly, Sinéad Slattery of the Pro Life Campaign criticised the assembly's decision to invite the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Guttmacher Institute to address it today. 

She said both groups have deep roots in the abortion industry, with the BPAS acting as the leading provider of abortion in Britain and the Guttmacher Institute affiliated to and funded by the Planned Parenthood organisation. 

Ms Slattery continued: "It is bizarre, to say the least, that a leading abortion provider in Britain, a business that has publicly campaigned against Ireland's constitutional protection for the unborn, should be invited to present under the heading of 'case studies' and 'care paths'. 

"Even more strange is that an invitation was given to the partisan Guttmacher Institute to present an 'overview of the availability of legal terminations in other jurisdictions'. Clearly, a neutral institute or group of scholars should have been asked to present such a dossier." 

Legal questions raised over rape cases

Meanwhile, a senior law lecturer has told the Citizens' Assembly that if abortion were to be allowed in cases of rape, it would be impractical to wait for a criminal conviction in order to prove that the rape had taken place.

Tom O'Malley of NUI Galway said that would not be a realistic option given the time lag of two/three years and the fact that many alleged rapes never make it to court.

The Assembly heard that rape is one ground for abortion in some continental European countries including Finland, Germany and Spain. 

Mr O'Malley asked what level or kind of proof might be needed for rape to be grounds for abortion. He said it could be thought of as a spectrum, with conviction at one end and an assertion of rape by a woman at the other end.  He said there were problems with both approaches. 

He also posed other questions about whether the alleged perpetrator would have to be identified and what rights he might have, whether the woman should be given immunity from a criminal or civil action and whether it would be required that the rape be reported to the gardaí.

Citizens' Assembly Chairperson Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said the topic would be explored in greater depth, possibly next weekend. 

4% of Rape Crisis clients also report a pregnancy

The head of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre told the Assembly that around 4% of Rape Crisis Network Ireland clients also report a pregnancy.

Noeline Blackwell said the information was not "brilliant" as not all rapes are reported and also, not all pregnancies would be made known to them.

Of these, 35% gave birth and became parents, 31% terminated, 19% miscarried, 7% chose adoption and 8% had an unknown outcome. 

Asked about false rape claims as a ground for abortion, Ms Blackwell said there was a reality that false claims could be made in relation to any crime but she said it was much smaller than people might think at around 3-4%. 

A facilitator for one table observed that perhaps rape would be better dealt with in a legislative way under the UK's section c mental health ground.

This morning, the assembly heard that there were 56 million abortions each year worldwide between 2010 and 2014.

Gilda Sedgh of the Guttmacher Institute outlined global statistics on terminations.

Ms Sedgh said abortion had declined worldwide.

3.5% of women aged 15-44 had abortions every year and around one in four pregnancies had ended in a termination, she said.

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