By Niall Hunter-Editor
The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has said the small drop in the number of Irish women going to Britain for abortions is most likely due to the high costs of having the procedure there.
And the IFPA has stressed that the latest abortion figures do not take account of the number of women who have had illegal abortions in Ireland.
An IFPA spokeswoman told irishhealth.com that recent anecdotal reports of 'backstreet' abortions in Ireland are an extremely worrying development, but not at all surprising, given that in any country where women's access to safe, legal abortion is denied, some women will seek to terminate their pregnancy by other means.
A total of 6,217 Irish women traveled to the UK for abortions in 2004, a drop of 103 on the figures for the previous year.
Women aged between 20 and 30 years represented the majority of those who travelled to Britain for abortions last year.
Rosie Toner, director of the IFPA's counseling services, said an increasing number of women attending the Association's post-abortion medical and counselling service had had their terminations in other European countries, including the Netherlands and Spain.
She said lower airfares and access to the internet has enabled Irish women to investigate other options outside of Britain.
The cost of a termination in the UK at present varies from £650 to £750 while the cost of an early abortion in Holland can be 250 or 300 euros less.
Even when travel and accommodation are taken into account it can still work out much cheaper to travel to other EU countries, according to the IFPA.
It says there is a real need for Irish statistics on abortion which indicate the number of women who access termination services within the EU, America and Russia; which are all locations that Irish women have been reported to travel to for abortions.
Ms Toner said unless we can develop a real picture of the numbers of women traveling for abortion services we will not be in a position to develop strategies and services that deal with the needs of women.
The IFPA said the fact that over 6,000 Irish women were traveling to Britain for abortions was further evidence of the need for domestic-based abortion services.
The Association suspects that some illegal abortions have taken place recently in Ireland but says it has it has no hard evidence of this.
It points out that in the past year the Gardai have found evidence of a return to illegal abortion, which has not been reported in Ireland since the 1950s. These terminations are believed to have taken place among the immigrant population, some of whom might face greater restrictions on travel and often lack funds, according to the Association.