Northern Ireland news

Tense stand-off as women take 'abortion pills' in pro-choice protest

Three women took what they said were abortion pills
By Mairead Holland, David Young and Michael McHugh

THERE were tense scenes outside Belfast's main court buildings yesterday as pro-choice campaigners took what they said were abortion pills in defiance of strict laws on terminations

Three women attending a rally each took one pill and at one point police officers moved in to attempt to remove one of the protesters.

As they led her away, supporters gathered around her and insisted she should not be arrested.

After several minutes, the officers abandoned their attempt to speak with her and left the area.

However, PSNI officers seized abortion pills as well as two small robots which were used to distribute them.

Taking an abortion pill is illegal in Northern Ireland if the intent is to cause a miscarriage.

The women who took the pills said they did not wish to disclose whether they were pregnant.

Eleanor Crossey Malone, from socialist feminist movement Rosa, said: "I have taken this in defiance of the extremely outdated, medieval, anti-choice laws that exist in Northern Ireland.

"We are not willing in the wake of the (Republic's) repeal referendum to be left behind any longer.

"Northern Ireland after repeal will be one of only two jurisdictions remaining in Europe to criminalise women effectively for having abortions."

She added: "Women every day in Northern Ireland are using these pills - as long as we don't talk about it, as long as we act like it is a secret, politicians are not under pressure to legislate on this."

Other pro-choice campaigners were dressed as handmaids, in reference to the Margaret Atwood novel The Handmaid's Tale about women's rights being stripped away.

Among their chants were "Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate" and "No more buses, trains and flights, we demand abortion rights".

Police officers videoed the protest, which attracted a counter-demonstration by anti-abortion activists.

Several campaigners addressed the pro-choice rally including Dublin TD Ruth Coppinger.

Prior to the event, Ms Crossey Malone had claimed abortion pills could be supplied to women without breaking the law because the robot used is operated from the Netherlands.

She said: "A person can have a consultation with the doctor over the internet and if the doctor is satisfied, the robot can deliver the pills to the person."

However, DUP assembly member Jim Wells, who was among pro-life protesters yesterday, said it was totally unacceptable for pro-choice activists to distribute pills to women in the absence of strict medical supervision.

He added: "It is also illegal for abortion pills to be prescribed under any circumstances. This is breach of the law in Northern Ireland which protects the unborn child."

Police later confirmed they "seized two small robots along with a number of pills, which were surrendered voluntarily, during a demonstration outside Laganside Court this afternoon".

Chief Inspector Stephen McCauley said: "Officers recorded footage of the demonstration, the details of a number of participants and have spoken with one of the event organisers. We will be reviewing the footage to determine whether any offences have been committed, but as we are now investigating this matter, we will not be commenting further."

After the protest, pro-choice activists boarded a bus and protested at DUP offices in Lisburn and Sinn Féin offices in Cookstown.

The day of protest ended with a rally in Derry.

The action was a collaboration between Women on Waves, Women on Web and Rosa Northern Ireland to bring attention to strict abortion laws and prosecutions of women for taking abortion pills.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where abortion is not legal, aside from exceptional cases.

The Republic is also set to begin allowing terminations in early pregnancy following a vote last week to repeal the eighth amendment of the consitution.

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