We are shocked by Trump’s stance on abortion, but yesterday a girl was sentenced on our doorstep

Northern Irish abortion laws are some of the most restrictive in Europe


Mostly, we are horrified by Donald Trump. Last week, the Republican presidential hopeful’s statement claiming that women who proceed with abortions should face “some form of punishment”, sparked mass outrage. And yet Northern Irish law permits a very real form of punishment.

Yesterday, Belfast Crown Court heard the case of a young woman who resorted to DIY methods to terminate her pregnancy.

This young woman, who bought drugs on the internet in order to induce a miscarriage, has been given a three-month suspended prison sentence. The then 19-year old woman was unable to raise enough money to travel to England for a termination. There is a near-total ban on abortion in Northern Ireland. According to FPA, a sexual health charity, 95 per cent of women are prevented from having one .

The woman pleaded guilty to two charges: procuring her own abortion by using a poison, and of supplying a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage. Her housemates alerted the police after discovering blood-stained items and a foetus in the bin of the house they shared. These details are horrible but relevant, as they point to her utter desperation.

When a defence lawyer addressed the court, he observed that his client  felt “victimised by the system.” He says hers were the actions of a “a 19-year-old who felt trapped”. The judge dealt her a three-month suspended sentence.

This young woman was convicted because under Northern Irish law, she doesn’t have ownership of her own body. Her country does not extend to women the right to choose.

The girl – who has not been identified – was 12 weeks into her pregnancy, an English clinic recommended the online pills as a last resort, and she was 19 years old. This was also two years ago. In between the termination and the trial, the woman had since had a baby with her partner and is trying to put her life back together again. This, surely, will not help. 

In court, the defence lawyer also observed that had the woman lived in any other region of the UK, she “would not have found herself before the courts”. Had this happened anywhere else in the UK, she would have been supported. She would have been given appropriate treatment, a safe termination and post-abortion counselling. Instead she’s been handed a (suspended) prison sentence. Was the trauma of resorting to a home abortion not punishment enough?

Misoprostol

Misoprotol, one of the two drugs used to carry out the DIY abortion

The court heard yesterday of how she was living with people she barely knew and, feeling isolated and trapped with no one to turn to, she resorted to desperate measures. It is difficult to imagine what this young woman must have gone through, and is still going through.

Surely cases like this also prove that banning abortion doesn’t stop abortions from happening – it just pushes them underground, and makes them more dangerous. Abortions must be carried out safely. Criminalising abortion simply makes women vulnerable. Northern Ireland is out of step with the rest of the UK and it must catch up.

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We must hope that this young woman will see this change in her lifetime, that it is only a matter of time before the abortion ban in Northern Ireland is lifted. The abortion laws have failed another woman: we need to move forward. 

This woman deserved a safe termination, and not only did she go through it alone, she is now being punished for it.