Woman’s conviction for buying abortion pills is ‘outrageous’

Family planning agency reacts after Belfast woman receives suspended jail sentence

A woman in Belfast, who bought abortion pills on the internet, has received a three-month suspended jail sentence after her housemates found a foetus of 10 to 12 weeks' gestation in a bin and called the police.

The Family Planning Association's Northern Ireland director, Mark Breslin, said it was "outrageous and a total disgrace that a young woman now has a criminal record due to an outdated law".

He added: "She has effectively been punished for having no financial means or resources to enable her to travel to England for a safe and legal abortion, a position in which she should not have been put in the first place."

The woman (21), who cannot be named by order of the court, was charged under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act and faced a sentence of up to life imprisonment for the self-induced abortion in July 2014.


Belfast Crown Court heard she could not raise the money to travel to England for an abortion.

She said she contacted a clinic in England and was told about the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol which she obtained on the internet.

Difference in legislation

Defence barrister Paul Bacon said the case highlighted the difference in legislation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

In the Republic, under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, 2013, a woman would face up to 14 years in prison for a self-induced abortion.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority and Customs officials say seizures of imported abortion pills in the Republic are growing.

While 28 packages, containing 635 tablets, were seized in 2011, the numbers had almost doubled to 1,017 tablets taken in from 60 importations in 2014.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times