By George Lee

There was a sharp increase in the number of women from Northern Ireland travelling to England and Wales for abortions last year, according to new figures.

The details, published today by the UK National Statistics Office, show the number who travelled increased by 46% in the third-quarter of last year and by 62% in the fourth-quarter compared with the same periods in 2016.

According to the figures the total number of women from Northern Ireland who travelled to England and Wales for an abortion during 2017 was 919. This was the highest total since 2011. 

It was up from 724 in 2016, which is an increase of 27%, for the year as a whole.

The numbers of Northern Ireland residents having an abortion in England and Wales has generally declined since a peak of 1,855 in 1990. 

However a significant change in that trend occurred last year following a government decision to fund abortions for Northern Ireland residents for the first time.

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On 29 June 2017 the British government announced that it would fund, via the Government Equalities Office (GEO), abortions for women ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland. The Central Booking System went live on 8 March 2018.

The UK Abortion Act 1967 does not extend to Northern Ireland and an abortion is only available there in very limited circumstances. 

Prior to the June 2017 announcement women from Northern Ireland could access abortions in the rest of the UK, but had to make their own arrangements and fund all aspects of the procedure.

The impact of the government funding decision appears to have triggered the increases measuring 46% and 62% in the numbers travelling from Northern Ireland during the final two quarters of last year.

Women from Northern Ireland now account 19.1% of non-residents travelling to England and Wales for abortions up from 15.1% in 2016.

However, the figures show a 5% reduction in the number of women from the Republic of Ireland travelling to England and Wales for abortions last year.

The figures show a total of 3,092 women from the Republic travelled for abortions down from 3,265 in 2016, a reduction of 173 of 5.3% in 2017.

Irish women accounted for 64.3% of all non-resident abortions carried out in England and Wales last year down from 68% in 2016.

The number of Republic of Ireland residents having an abortion in England and Wales has been declining steadily since 2001 when 6,673 women had the procedure.

Read more:
Bradley: Supreme Court NI abortion ruling will be 'clearly heard'