By Michael McHugh, Press Association
Women in Northern Ireland are still using illegal abortion medication even though the procedure is freely available to them in England, a study found.
Northern Ireland outlaws terminations in almost all cases. Abortion pills are illegal but can be bought over the internet.
The NHS funds the procedure in England for women travelling from Northern Ireland. They have expressed concern about having to lie to family and take unexplained absences.
University of Texas research said fear of prosecution created significant distress for women in Northern Ireland.
Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the abortion care provider the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), warned: “It is absolutely appalling that this is what we force women in the UK today to endure.
“No woman should have to experience such fear and anxiety or put her own health at risk in order to make her own decision about a pregnancy.
“It is time for the women of Northern Ireland to be treated exactly as those in the rest of the UK and for all women in our country to be granted the right to make their own choices when faced with an unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy they cannot continue.
“Abortion is a healthcare issue, not a criminal matter.”
Terminations are banned in Northern Ireland except where a woman’s life is in danger.
Hundreds of women and girls are thought to travel to England for treatment.
On October 23, a bill will be presented in the House of Commons with cross-party support, seeking to decriminalise consensual abortion up to 24 weeks in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by reform of the Offences Against the Person Act.
The University of Texas study was published on Friday in the BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health journal. It involved interviews with 30 women.
Emma Campbell, co-chair of the Alliance for Choice campaign group, said: “The women in this study recall being terrified, not of taking abortion pills at home, but of being arrested.
“Travel is an insurmountable barrier for many, as we can see by the scant drop in figures accessing these pills.”
She added: “The current situation forcing abortion seekers to travel is untenable and inhumane.”