Police in Belfast have carried out a number of raids for abortion pills, a Northern Irish politician has said.
It is understood the raids took place at activists’ homes and workplaces on International Women’s Day, while feminist activists were attending a pro-choice rally in the city.
Unlike the rest of the UK, abortion is a criminal offence in Northern Ireland, where women face up to life in prison. It is estimated that more than a thousand women each year travel to Great Britain for terminations.
However, Northern Irish women are not entitled to free abortions on the NHS, despite being UK taxpayers and they instead must pay for private procedures. Activists say this means low-income women are increasingly unable to travel and are instead buying abortion pills online and taking them at home in Northern Ireland.
Clare Bailey MLA, Deputy leader of the Northern Irish Green Party and the politician representing the South Belfast constituency in which the raids occurred, told The Independent: “I am disturbed that the PSNI are targeting pro-choice activists and criminalising women.
“Women who buy this medication are invariably in a very difficult situation. Indeed it’s often poorer women who turn to the internet because they cannot afford to travel outside of this jurisdiction to access reproductive healthcare.
“The lack of reproductive rights here in Northern Ireland means that women are criminalised and vilified.”
A number of prosecutions have recently been taken against women in Northern Ireland. Last April, a 21-year-old woman was found guilty of committing an abortion after she experienced an unplanned pregnancy when she was 19. She told the court she tried to raise money in time to travel to England for an abortion but could not afford to do so and instead ordered pills online and performed an abortion on herself at home. Her flatmates discovered bloody clothing and foetal remains in the shared kitchen ben and reported her to the police, whereupon she was arrested.
Another Northern Irish woman is currently awaiting trial, charged with helping her 15-year-old daughter to access abortion pills.
In November 2016, Belfast High Court found that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are a breach of international human rights legislation. However, the Northern Irish parliament, which is dominated by Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant politicians, voted to keep the ban regardless.
The House of Commons is the state actor responsible for ensuring Northern Ireland complies to human rights legislation. Although Northern Ireland has a devolved parliament, human rights do not fall within the devolved remit.
However, the British government has thus far declined to comment on whether it will introduce legislative changes from London.