‘Arrest us’ for using illegal abortion pills, pro-choice campaigners dare N. Irish govt

Reuters / Cathal McNaughton
More than 200 women in Northern Ireland have said they hope they will be arrested after signing a letter addressed to the government, in which they admit to having used illegal abortion pills.

In the letter, sent to the Public Prosecution Service, the women said they had either used the pills themselves or helped friends acquire them, both of which are illegal under Northern Irish abortion laws.

Their letter is in response to a recent court case, where a Belfast mother was convicted of giving her daughter abortion pills to induce a miscarriage.

She has been charged with two cases of unlawfully procuring abortion medicine. She allegedly bought two types of drugs, Mifepristone and Misoprostol, both of which would cause a pregnant woman to miscarry.

The legal case is so rare that it prompted the campaign group Alliance for Choice to send an open letter to the government.

Signatory Goretti Horgan said it was the first time such a case had been taken to court.

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It’s the first time, to our knowledge, that someone has actually gone past preliminary enquiry for assisting an abortion. It’s unfair because hundreds of women have been doing it for years.

“We thought the only way to get this message across was to tell the truth which is that hundreds and hundreds of women in Ireland have done exactly this. If it’s not for themselves, they do it for daughters, nieces, sisters and friends,” she added.

She explained the signatories wanted to “join the woman in the dock” because they are all responsible for the same crimes.

We hope that some of us will be arrested, if not all of us. They should be prosecuting all of us,” she said.

Northern Irish abortion law was recently branded “draconian” and the harshest in Europe in an Amnesty International report.

Unless their life is proven to be in risk, women are banned from seeking an abortion in the region.

This means if a woman is a victim of rape or incest, or if her baby is diagnosed with fetal disabilities, she is unable to seek an abortion.

Consequently more than 4,000 women a year are forced to travel abroad to seek medical help, with even more ordering the illegal pills online.

Detective Superintendent Andrea McMullan of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PNSI) said the authorities were aware of the letter.

“Police are aware of the letter and are assessing its contents.

“Abortion is a very emotive issue and as police our role is to uphold the law. It would depend on the specific circumstances of an incident as to whether or not an offence has been committed and each case would be investigated on its own merit.

“Police would remind the public not to take prescription drugs that have not been prescribed to them. The taking of any prescription drug is potentially harmful if used without appropriate medical supervision.”