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Housemates speak out after Northern Ireland woman convicted of illegal abortion

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The two housemates of the Northern Irish woman convicted for having an illegal abortion have spoken out about why they reported her to the police. 

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the two women – who asked to remain anonymous – said that they had been vilified for contacting the police, after their 19-year-old housemate gave herself an abortion using pills bought over the internet. The three women were sharing a house in south Belfast when the abortion took place in 2014.

Now 21, the younger woman was given a three-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, on April 5. The news ignited furious debate about Northern Ireland's punitive abortion laws. 

One of the housemates said that she had recently suffered a miscarriage herself, and had attempted to help the teenager by trying to get in touch with her family and offering to be legal guardian to the child if she went through with the pregnancy.

The 38-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph: "She called the baby 'the pest' and kept saying she just wanted rid of it. She said: 'I don't want this inside me.' I offered a number of times to become legal guardian to the child... I really tried to help her. I talked through a number of options but she just didn't want to know." 

Protest

Pro-choice activists protest in Belfast in January

She claimed that she knew of her housemate's plan to order miscarriage-inducing pills online, but was unaware she had taken them until receiving a phone call from the young woman asking her to bring a pair of scissors to her bedroom. "I went upstairs with them. She was lying in bed and I asked what she wanted them for. She said 'this is hanging out of me on a piece of string'."

She said that the teenager refused any medical treatment and later came downstairs with a plastic bag, which she put in the bin. When the third housemate, a 22-year-old woman, returned home the following day, the pair looked in the plastic bag. "There was the baby on a towel," said the 38-year-old. She added: "It has done so much damage to me mentally... On bin collection day I couldn't bring myself to put the bin out for collection. I didn't want to throw a baby away. I didn't know what to do."

Abortion

The woman in question purchased miscarriage-inducing pills online

The second housemate said that the pair contacted police after telling a friend what had happened, who encouraged them to report the teenager. The woman told the Belfast Telegraph: "We tried so hard to support her when she told us about the pregnancy but it made me so angry when she kept calling it 'the pest'. Then, after the abortion, she showed no remorse... Her attitude really got to me." 

"It is just insane the way we are being portrayed as being the bad ones in this," she said. "The abuse we are getting is just awful. People are accusing us of having no compassion for not getting her help. But she begged and pleaded with us not to tell anyone.

"This isn't a debate about the rights and wrongs of abortion. The way this was done was wrong."

Abortions are banned in Northern Ireland, except in cases where the life or mental health of the mother is in danger. Anyone who performs an illegal termination could be jailed for life. As a result, hundreds of women travel to other parts of the UK to access abortion services every year. Abortions are legal and free under the NHS in the rest of the UK under the 1967 Abortion Act, but this legislation does not extend to Northern Ireland. 

Amnesty International have condemned the criminalisation of the woman in this week's case. "A woman who needs an abortion is not a criminal - the law should not treat her as such," said Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland director.

Read more: “I had an abortion this week. How different things would be if I were in Northern Ireland”

Pictures: Getty, iStock

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