Protesters demand urgent law reform as Northern Ireland woman faces charges for using ‘abortion pills’

Abortion law reform protestors take to streets of Belfast, Dublin, London, Galway and Cork

Northern Ireland’s cruel and outdated abortion laws must be urgently reformed, said Amnesty International today, as campaigners prepared to protest in Belfast, Dublin and London in response to the prosecution of a 21-year-old woman for allegedly taking so-called ‘abortion pills’.

The 21-year-old woman from Northern Ireland is at risk of life imprisonment if found guilty of two charges made against her at Belfast Magistrates Court on Monday. The first involves unlawfully taking poisonous substances, namely the drugs Mifepristone and Misoprostol, to terminate the pregnancy. The second charge is supplying or procuring a poison, knowing that it was to be used to induce a miscarriage.

Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said:

“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 - over a thousand women make that journey from Northern Ireland every year. Those that can’t afford it may take medication in an attempt to terminate their pregnancy – without medical supervision or support.

“A woman who needs an abortion is not a criminal. The law should not treat her as such.

“By denying access to healthcare services, Northern Ireland is violating women and girls' human rights, as has now been established in Belfast’s High Court.

“Instead of sanctioning women and girls for seeking the healthcare they need, the Northern Ireland Executive should lead the way in reforming abortion laws to bring them into line with international standards.”

The medicated abortion pills are internationally regarded as a safe and recommended option for terminating a pregnancy in the first trimester. The criminalisation of abortion means that women and girls take these pills without effective medical supervision and therefore potentially resulting in serious health complications.  

Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.

Last year, the United Nations expressed concern about the situation in Northern Ireland and urged reform. Meanwhile in November last year Northern Ireland’s High Court found the legal framework on abortion to breach women and girls’ human rights.

Amnesty International’s My Body, My Rights campaign aims to stop the criminalisation and control of sexual and reproductive rights and to empower women to claim those rights.

The protest in Belfast takes place outside Belfast City Hall on Friday at 5:30pm and is organised by Alliance for Choice. Other protests are due to take place in Dublin (6pm, outside GPO, O’Connell St), Galway (6pm, outside Galway Court house), London (6pm, outside Northern Ireland Office, 1 Horse Guards Road) and Cork (Monday, 5:30pm, Daunt Square).

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