A significant number of women are continuing to travel from the Republic to the UK for early abortions despite the service being available free here since January, the Irish Independent has learned.
At least 85 women from the Republic had abortions in UK clinics in January and February, compared to 157 for the same two months in 2018.
The women attended clinics from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the largest provider of terminations in the UK.
Since January 1, abortion is available here up to 12 weeks of pregnancy once a woman has received a certification from a doctor.
The figures, which do not include a number of other UK providers, show that although the numbers going to the UK have slowed down, many women who would qualify for a free termination here are still opting to go abroad.
Around one-third of the women were under nine weeks’ pregnant, which means they would have qualified for a medical abortion here.
Other women may have been over the 12-week limit and would not have been eligible if they did not meet the restricted criteria that applies after that.
Most of the women were under 35, which is in keeping with previous years.
It is understood some women have said the steps that need to be taken in Ireland to secure a medical abortion are too cumbersome and they preferred the easier option of going to the UK.
Under the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Act, a woman who is under 12 weeks’ pregnant must be certified by a GP.
She has to wait three days before having a medical abortion and if she is between nine and 12 weeks’ pregnant this must happen in a maternity hospital.
Some 300 GPs have signed up to provide medical abortions and nine maternity hospitals are involved.
The HSE said there was a “good geographical spread”.
Meanwhile, it is understood that hundreds of GPs have signed a petition to have their professional body, the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), hold an extraordinary general meeting to discuss abortion.
They are seeking a debate on a motion “that routine general practice is not the appropriate setting in which to provide abortions and that a clinical setting, external to general practice, is more appropriate for the provision of abortions”.
Another motion states that the “ICGP favours an opt-in system for those general practitioners who wish to provide abortions”.
A third motion states the ICGP “commits itself unequivocally to the effective exercise of freedom of conscience by all healthcare professionals”.
It considers any obligation to make the arrangements for the transfer of care of a pregnant woman necessary to enable the woman to avail of a termination, to be an “interference with such effective exercise”.
Under the law, GPs are not obliged to provide medical abortions, but they must refer a woman on to a colleague who is participating.
However, several anti-abortion GPs say they do not want to be part of a referral system for a procedure with which they so profoundly disagree.
A meeting held in late 2018 resulted in hundreds of these GPs leaving because they said their motions had not been heard.