A Northern Ireland woman was found guilty of having an abortion and subsequently received a three-month suspended jail sentence. As abortions are illegal in Northern Ireland, and she was unable to travel to where they are legal, the woman, who was not named, performed an abortion on herself at home. She was subsequently indicted under the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act.
Belfast Telegraph reports the woman moved into the apartment in February. She immediately confided to her housemates that she was with child, and was trying to raise money to travel to England for an abortion. When the young woman realized she could not afford the travel expense, the clinic suggested that she take a cocktail of misoprostol and mifepristone — which would cause her to miscarry.
— Belfast Telegraph (@BelTel) April 5, 2016
According to The National Scot, the Belfast woman performed the abortion on July 12, 2014. Her housemates found the fetus in the trash bin, alongside other blood-stained items, and contacted authorities to report that the woman committed a crime. Officials immediately searched the apartment and found the fetus hidden in a trash bin. A post-mortem examination established the fetus was 10-12 weeks old.
Paul Bacon, the woman’s defense barrister, argued that his client, who was 19 at the time, was alone and was driven to “such desperate measures” by fear.
In Northern Ireland, women and doctors who perform abortions risk sentences as severe as life imprisonment. The abortion law in the U.K. country is the most restrictive in the whole of Europe, as women are not even allowed to abort in cases of incest and rape.
The only exception that exists for abortion in Northern Ireland is if a woman can prove carrying the child to term would cause “serious and long-term risk to mental or physical health… ” Essentially, the woman and her doctor must prove giving birth would be life-threatening or detrimental to her mental health.
According to reports, more than 68 percent of women living in Northern Ireland want the law changed. However, it continues to receive strong support from government officials.
The Victorian anti-abortion legislation was modified in Wales, Scotland, and England. However, abortion is still frowned upon in Northern Ireland, which is governed by Nationalists and hard-line Unionists, who are historically conservative in their beliefs.
— New Statesman (@NewStatesman) April 5, 2016
Although her attorney argued Northern Ireland’s strict laws forced her to perform the abortion at home in desperation, the woman pleaded guilty to willfully purchasing a poison to have a miscarriage and performing the abortion using a poison.
Presiding Judge David McFarland was highly critical of agencies in Northern Ireland, which could have come to the woman’s aid. With some support and more options, the woman may have reconsidered her decision to have an abortion. “Unfortunately [the clinics] are part of a polarized debate that can be part of a more toxic debate,” he said.
Amnesty International Northern Ireland Director Patrick Corrigan said the court’s decision underlines the risk associated with broad anti-abortion laws.
“We’re utterly appalled by the court’s decision to impose a suspended prison sentence on this woman. A woman who needs an abortion is not a criminal. The law should not treat her as such. By denying access to healthcare services, Northern Ireland is violating women’s and girl’s human rights, as has been established in Belfast’s high court. Instead of sanctioning women and girls seeking the healthcare they need, the Northern Ireland Executive should lead the way in reforming abortion laws to bring them into line with international standards.”
The Northern Ireland woman who performed the home abortion did not suffer any physical trauma from the procedure. However, those who oppose the law argue it is putting women’s lives in danger. Those who support the law believe women should seek other options, including adoption.
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