Northern Irish woman challenges prosecution over abortion pills

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 6 November 2018 13:10 GMT

'Alliance for Choice' and other pro-choice groups from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, join 'Processions' women's march for more liberal abortion laws in Northern Ireland in Belfast, Britain, June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

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Abortion is permitted in Northern Ireland only if a woman's life is in danger or there is a long-term or permanent risk to her mental or physical health

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Nov 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A mother who bought abortion pills for her teenage daughter will on Tuesday challenge a decision to prosecute her, in the latest effort to reform Northern Ireland's restrictive laws.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was charged with two counts of unlawfully procuring and supplying abortion pills in 2013 and faces up to five years in prison.

"This woman has done nothing wrong and yet our laws treat her as a criminal," said Amnesty International's Northern Ireland campaign manager Grainne Teggart in a statement.

"We hope the judges consider this case and its implications very carefully, and listen to the women, politicians, medical practitioners and lawyers who are all calling for an end to this cruel and outdated law."

Amnesty said Tuesday's court hearing in Belfast marked the first time a prosecution under Northern Ireland's abortion law had been challenged.

Abortion is permitted in Northern Ireland only if a woman's life is in danger or there is a long-term or permanent risk to her mental or physical health. It is not allowed in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

Northern Ireland is the only part of Britain or Ireland with such a restrictive regime, after voters in the Irish republic backed the removal of a ban in a landslide May vote that sparked calls for change in the North.

About 1,000 Northern Irish women travel to England each year to have an abortion, while others while others risk prosecution by self-medicating with abortion pills.

The woman involved in the case bought the abortion pills at the request of her then 15-year-old daughter, who had been in a physically and mentally abusive relationship, according to Amnesty, which is supporting the family.

The mother later shared details with her doctor, who reported her to police, it said.

Britain's Supreme Court ruled in June the law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, although it dismissed the case on a technicality because it was not brought by a person who was directly affected.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which initiated the earlier Supreme Court case, is also involved in the challenge to the mother's prosecution.

"Women and girls continue to face being criminalised in what should be solely a healthcare matter," Chief Commissioner Les Allamby told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an emailed statement.

"We are supportive of the growing public and parliamentary momentum calling for change on this issue."

Pro-choice campaigners have called for the British government to pass laws liberalising abortion in Northern Ireland, after the devolved administration in Belfast collapsed in January 2017.

However, Prime Minister Theresa May has declined to intervene, saying any decision should be taken by authorities in Northern Ireland.

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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