Northern Ireland: “women seeking abortions are not criminals” - Amnesty, in response to latest pill case

‘The law must stop treating Northern Ireland women who need abortions as criminals’ - Patrick Corrigan 

Amnesty International has repeated its call for a change to Northern Ireland’s abortion law, as it was revealed in a Belfast court today that a woman and man accused of attempting to get an abortion have accepted formal cautions. 

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International said:

“The law must stop treating Northern Ireland women who need abortions as criminals.

“It is disgraceful that, once again, a woman – and, on this occasion a male co-accused – has been treated like a common criminal for taking abortion pills, which are prescribed free on the NHS in every other part of the UK.

“This latest prosecution reveals, yet again, that making abortion illegal does not stop women in Northern Ireland needing or seeking terminations.

“Those who can afford it, travel to England for the treatment they need. Those that can’t afford it, may take pills obtained online in an attempt to terminate their pregnancy – without medical supervision or support and under threat of criminal prosecution.

“Rather than standing idly by while women are prosecuted, Northern Ireland Executive Ministers should bring our abortion laws into line with international human rights standards.”

Medicated abortion pills are internationally regarded as a safe and recommended option for terminating a pregnancy in the first trimester. Mifepristone and Misoprostol are on the list of essential medicines of the World Health Organisation. However, the criminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland means that women and girls take these pills without effective medical supervision, therefore potentially resulting in serious health complications.

Background:

The woman, aged 21, was charged with using a poison to procure her own abortion. The alleged offence involved administering noxious substances, namely the drugs Mifepristone and Misoprostol. 

Her 22-year-old co-defendant faced a count of supplying a poison with the intent to procure a miscarriage. The charges, under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, relate to incidents in Belfast in 2015. 

Terminations are currently only allowed in Northern Ireland if the woman’s life or long-term health is at serious risk. Lawyers for the woman sought reporting restrictions to protect her anonymity based on the risk to her life. 

Prosecutors today revealed charges were withdrawn against the pair after warnings were administered to them on January 13. The judge imposed a ban on identifying the woman due to the heightened risk of suicide from any publicity. Her co-accused is not being named either for legal reasons.

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