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Northern Irish Woman Sentenced Over Self-Induced Abortion

Photographed by Rockie Nolan
A 21-year-old woman in Northern Ireland has been given a suspended jail sentence for successfully carrying out a home abortion two years ago, after she procured the relevant drugs on the internet. The woman, who has since had a child with her current partner, faces prosecution due to the fact that Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK where abortion remains illegal.

According to The Guardian, the woman (who can not be named) pleaded guilty before Belfast crown court on Monday, accepting that she did purchase drugs online for a home abortion. She was handed a three month sentence, suspended for two years. It was her former housemates who reported her abortion to local authorities, days after the successful termination. The woman's barrister told Belfast crown court that in no part of the UK would the woman “have found herself before the courts” for choosing to terminate her pregnancy.

The court heard of how the woman had looked into travelling to England to have the abortion but was not able to afford the travel costs. After visiting a clinic, the woman had learnt of drugs that were purchasable online that would induce a miscarriage. After her housemates tipped off the police, PSNI officers came to the renewed accommodation and found a foetus in a bin bag.

The woman's defence barrister argued that the woman hardly knew her housemates and felt “isolated and trapped … with no one to turn to.” Judge Mr Justice McFarland concurred that the blasé advice around the pills the woman purchased “without knowledge of her background, and details were perhaps inappropriate.”

The law which makes abortions (aside from some rare examples) illegal in Northern Ireland falls under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and means women found guilty can be jailed for life. It is remarkable that the law still exists, and it's a legal clause that continues to outrage people living in Northern Ireland. Last year a poll indicated that 68% of people recently supported the legalisation of abortion following sex crime or fatal foetal abnormality and yet the law still stands. A representative from The British Pregnancy Advisory Service called for immediate change: “We call on all politicians to repeal these antiquated, Victorian laws and create an abortion framework fit for women in 2016. We deserve nothing less.”