A Northern Irish woman due to be prosecuted for buying her teenage daughter abortion pills will have the chance to challenge the decision.
In a case that refocuses the spotlight on Northern Ireland’s repressive abortion laws, a Belfast judge has granted permission for a judicial review to be heard over the mother’s prosecution.
The unnamed woman bought abortion pills over the internet for her 15-year-old daughter in 2013, as The Guardian reports, after the girl became pregnant while in an allegedly abusive relationship. The mother was arrested last year and faces two charges for illegally procuring and supplying poison with intent to cause a miscarriage, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Amnesty International said that it welcomed the court’s ruling to allow the mother to challenge the decision to prosecute her. “She is not a criminal, her daughter is not a criminal,” said Grainne Teggart, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland campaign manager. “Abortion is a healthcare and human rights issue.”
Teggart added that abortion pills are “prescribed free on the NHS in every other part of the UK.”
The girl found out she was pregnant in the summer of 2013, after a relationship with a boy one year older than her who she says was physically abusive.
When she found out she was pregnant, her boyfriend reportedly threatened to ‘kick the baby out of her’ and said he would stab the child if it was born.
She went to her mother for help, according to statements submitted to the court. They discussed various options including keeping the baby, giving it up for adoption or travelling to England for a legal abortion.
The mother ordered the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol over the internet, after reading on the British Pregnancy Advisory Service website that they were generally safe and widely used. These tablets, which were used by an estimated 26 million women worldwide in 2005, are recommended as safe for use in early pregnancy by the World Health Organisation. The mother says she did not know that abortion pills were illegal in Northern Ireland.
The girl’s ex-boyfriend continued to harass her after she took the pills, according to the statements, and she became upset. Concerned about her emotional well-being, her mother took her to her GP for a consultation, where she says they were “totally open” with the doctor about the abortion tablets.
A statement from the mother said: “None of the people I spoke with about accessing pills told me that it was illegal and I did not believe that I was doing anything wrong.”
She continued: “My primary concern throughout this has been to protect my child’s best interests. I don’t believe that [she] would have been able to cope with giving birth and rearing a child.”
A doctor at the same clinic (it is unclear whether it was the girl’s GP) subsequently reported her to police, and police then accessed the teenager’s medical records without her consent.
The daughter agreed with her mother’s assertion that she would have struggled with becoming a mother at 15, saying: “I was still a child myself.”
She told the court that she had been in her first year of GCSEs when she fell pregnant, and planned to take A-levels and go to university. “I knew that all of this would have been extremely difficult as a single mother.”
The girl also said she was frightened that her ex-boyfriend might continue to abuse her, or the child if she continued with the pregnancy. “The idea of him being the father of my child and having him in my life in the long term made me physically ill.”
Although the daughter is not being prosecuted in this instance, it is a criminal offence to have an abortion in Northern Ireland, where the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act does not apply. Women face prosecution for having terminations even if a pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest or in the case of fatal foetal abnormality, and several Northern Irish women have been prosecuted for having abortions in recent years.
The judicial review will examine whether the girl’s human rights were breached when police viewed her private medical records. Lawyers for the family argue that it would also have been a breach of her human rights were the girl forced to go through with an unwanted pregnancy.
By extension, they say, both the girl and her mother’s human rights would be breached were the mother to be prosecuted.
The mother’s legal team is hoping to crowdfund the fees for the judicial review because she is not eligible for legal aid. You can support them via their JustGiving page here.
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