Police inquiry dropped after Belfast raid for abortion pills

Pro-choice campaigner says packages ordered in North being intercepted by police

Pro-choice activists womenonweb.org have campaigned for availability of  abortion pills. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Pro-choice activists womenonweb.org have campaigned for availability of abortion pills. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A police investigation into a women’s rights campaigner in Belfast has been dropped after her workplace was raided for abortion pills last month.

Helen Crickard’s Belfast workshop was raided by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on March 8th with a search warrant for abortion pills and “instruments that could cause an abortion”. Ms Crickard, who was in City Hall at the time of the raid for an International Women’s Day event, said the search warrant included the seizure of all electronic devices with internet capability.

“If I had been there they would have taken my phone and my laptop. I was totally taken aback when I heard about the search. They said they had intercepted abortion pills coming to my address in my name. But they didn’t find anything and just left.”

The campaigner told The Irish Times she subsequently discovered she would not face charges, and that the investigation had been dropped, after she contacted the PSNI for an update.

The police raid on Ms Crickard’s workplace was one of two such raids last month, according to fellow campaigner Goretti Horgan who says the first was carried out on the day of the Northern Ireland election count at the home of a male pro-choice campaigner.

Ms Horgan said between 15-20 women had been contacted by police over the past month and informed packages of theirs had been seized. It is understood these women were invited to call into their local police station for interviews to help with inquiries. She said if the women denied any knowledge of the packages the police would turn up and ask them questions on their doorsteps.

“For the women who are pregnant and ordering the pills, they had no reason to think it would bring the police to their doors. We can’t understand why there’s been this turn around by police.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like for these women, especially if they live with people they can’t be open with. Can you imagine living at home and you haven’t told your parents, or you are living with an abusive or controlling partner, and the police turn up?”

Offence of procurement

Asked to comment on the decision to drop the investigation into Ms Crickard, a spokeswoman for the PSNI said it would not comment on named individuals. She added that no one had been charged in 2017 with the offence of procurement of an abortion.

Det Chief Supt Tim Mairs said the PSNI was “obliged to conduct investigations where criminal offences were disclosed or suspected which included following all lawful and proportionate lines of inquiry”.

He added that “ingesting certain drugs when pregnant or ordering and providing them to another person who is pregnant may constitute a criminal offence. In terms of our approach, where the PSNI is made aware of any suspected offences, each case will be investigated on its own merits”.

Ms Crickard expressed concern that news of the raid on her workplace could make women more fearful about accessing abortion medication and push them into a position which could “lead to backstreet abortions”.

However, Ms Horgan said according to the womonweb.org abortion support website, women in Northern Ireland have continued to order abortion pills over the past few weeks. She added that pills ordered by women in the Republic pass through Northern Ireland and could also fall under the scrutiny of the Northern Irish police.

“We forget how desperate women are willing to take desperate measures. Whenever we close off a safe method of abortion we’re just pushing them towards using an unsafe method.”