Healthcare news

Landmark legal challenge by woman who bought abortion pills for her teenage daughter begins

The High Court in Belfast will hear a legal challenge tomorrow by a woman prosecuted for buying abortion pills for her teenage daughter
Seanín Graham

A LANDMARK judicial review brought by a woman prosecuted for buying abortion pills for her 15-year-old daughter will begin in Belfast's High Court tomorrow

It will be the first time the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has been challenged on a decision relating to Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws.

The mother, who illegally purchased the pills online five years ago, faces two charges of unlawfully procuring and supplying the pills with intent to cause a miscarriage under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

She is pursuing a judicial review of the PPS decision to prosecute.

Amnesty International is backing the case and say the woman faces a criminal trial and up to 10 years in prison if her challenge is unsuccessful.

A coalition of charities including the Family Planning Association, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, and the Abortion Support Network are also supporting the application.

They are warning a prosecution will deter women who have taken abortion pills from seeking medical advice in the "rare event" of serious complications such as haemorraging, due to fear of being arrested.

Almost 1,000 women from the north travelled to England and Wales for abortions last year. There has also been a reported increase in the number of women taking illegal abortion drugs bought on the internet, though the figures are unknown.

The High Court case comes four months after the Republic's historic referendum to liberalise its abortion legislation and amid intensifying pressure to relax the north's laws, which are among the most restrictive in Europe.

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty said: "This ground-breaking case is a direct challenge to the criminalisation of women and abortion in Northern Ireland.

"This is a mother who has been treated like a common criminal for helping her daughter source medication that is prescribed free on the NHS in every other part of the UK."

There have been repeated calls by British MPs to reform the north's laws, with Labour MP Diana Johnston currently pursuing a private members bill on decriminalising abortion.

In June, a Supreme Court judgement found the the north's existing laws are in breach of human rights legislation. However, it also ruled it was a devolved matter.

Anti-abortion groups have hit out at attempts to change the north's laws in London, branding it as "getting abortion through the back door".

Bernie Smyth of Precious Life said "all genuine medical treatment" is already provided for pregnant women in the north and that the assembly has voted against "any change to our pro-life laws".

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