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Half of young Brits unaware of shameful disparity in UK abortion access

Half of young Brits unaware of shameful disparity in UK abortion access

  • Poll finds that 47% of young British adults unaware of Northern Ireland abortion ban
  • Hundreds of women travelling every year from NI to GB - and being denied NHS-funded treatment.
  • President-elect Donald Trump met outrage when he declared women who have abortion should be punished – in NI they are
  • The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, is today highlighting the plight of Northern Irish women in a new ‎campaign.

Nearly half (47%) of young British adults aged 18-34 are unaware that women in Northern Ireland do not have access to the same lawful abortion services as they do and must travel outside of the country for help when faced with an unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy they feel they cannot continue. 

The 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland and mounting fears of prosecution means doctors now feel unable to help women in the most desperate of circumstances. Hopes that a new law would soon be passed to enable women to access abortion in cases of severe foetal anomalies have just been dashed by the collapse of power-sharing in Stormont. Consequently, these women will continue to travel to England for treatment at huge financial and emotional cost for the foreseeable future.

Overall, over a third (36%) of British adults said they were not aware of the disparity in access, ranging from 46% percent of those aged 18-24‎ to 28% of those aged 55+.

The inauguration of Donald Trump has raised concerns about the future of reproductive rights in the US, yet significant numbers of women in the UK do not even have basic access to lawful abortion services. In 2015 alone, 833 women were forced the travel to England for abortion care. Despite paying UK taxes, and despite the fact that the UK funds safe, legal abortion services in developing countries, women from Northern Ireland are not entitled to NHS-funded treatment.

Women in Northern Ireland are left with little choice but to either find the funds to travel or risk prosecution by ordering abortion medication online. While this treatment is safe for women ending early pregnancies, under a law passed in 1861 any woman who induces her own miscarriage - anywhere in the UK - can go to prison for life. Two women in Northern Ireland are currently facing prosecution - one reported to be at risk of suicide as a result - and more cases are expected to follow. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, has today launched a campaign to raise awareness of the legal situation across the UK.

Ann Furedi, bpas Chief Executive, said:

“Many are concerned that Trump’s Presidency will see progress in reproductive rights rolled back for women in America – yet these are rights that have never even been granted to women in Northern Ireland. There is virtually no access to abortion care in Northern Ireland, and despite being UK taxpayers, these women are not entitled to NHS-funded treatment.

“Indeed, the most shocking elements of Donald Trump’s vision for abortion laws in the US are the reality for women in Northern Ireland. Comments that women should face “punishment” for ending a pregnancy were widely condemned, yet in our country we have laws which demand just that.

“And we know the situation is worsening. The recent spate of prosecutions has created a chill factor amongst medical professionals, and doctors now feel unable to perform abortions even in cases which would legally be permitted under the country’s very strict laws. The collapse of power-sharing means that the very small steps forward it appeared politicians were ready to take have now been halted.

“As we ready ourselves to defend reproductive rights for women in the US, it is only right that we also look to support women in our own backyard. Bpas will do everything it can to ensure every woman in Northern Ireland can access the care she needs, until that care is finally available to her at home.”


For more information please contact the bpas press office on 0207 061 3377 or email press@bpas.org

Notes to Editor

About bpas

bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org

About the survey

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2088 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between  12th - 13th January 2017.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).The question read:

The 1967 Abortion Act provides access to lawful abortion services in England, Wales and Scotland but this has never been extended to Northern Ireland. This means that unless the mother's life is deemed to be put at risk by the pregnancy, women in Northern Ireland do not have the same access to lawful abortion services and must travel outside of the country, if they need to access this service. Before taking this survey, were you aware of this?

For the full data set please email press@bpas.org