An investigation into Northern Ireland’s strict rules on abortion and the effect on women in the province

Posted in politics on January 9th, 2016 by monika, 8 January 2016 by Sally Weale

A young man learns how to put on a condom at a Brook sex education class in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Paul McErlane for the Guardian

A young man learns how to put on a condom at a Brook sex education class in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Paul McErlane for the Guardian

‘If a church school doesn’t believe in contraception, they won’t teach it.’ Family planning experts warn that ‘moralistic’ approach to some teenagers’ sex education is leaving vulnerable young people unable to make informed choices
Six teenage boys dressed in tracksuits are sitting in a classroom in a training centre in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Lined up in front of them are bottles of Vimto and Mountain Dew energy drinks – and a number of colourful plastic penises.

The boys, aged 17 and 18 and on a construction course, are having a condom relay as part of a sex education session. It’s a boisterous lesson – the boys crack non-stop jokes and laugh uproariously at each other’s quips. “This is the best class ever,” says one boy, gasping for air between gales of laughter.
They play a game called “Who’s the Daddy?” where they all receive the results of a pregnancy test sealed in an envelope and are asked to consider what they would do in the event of a positive result. They are appropriately solemn as they peel open the envelope.

“I’d try my best to explain it to my mum, then I’d run out of the house crying,” says one. Others coo over the idea of having their own baby. Not one of them would consider having an abortion. “That’s sick, because … that’s a child,” says one, and they all agree. They know it’s not legal in Northern Ireland, and not one of them is in favour of legalising it.

The young men in Coleraine are fortunate. Thanks to the sexual health charity Brook, which provides community-based sex education for young people in the province, they have had three half-day sessions to talk openly and honestly about every aspect of relationships and sex – including abortion – which is highly controversial in this part of the UK.
During this particular session, they have handed around 15 different types of contraception, discussing the pros and cons of each; they have squirmed in front of graphic pictures of every sexually transmitted infection (STI) known to humankind, as well as having considered the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy.

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The Guardian view on abortion: Northern Ireland’s shame

Posted in politics on January 9th, 2016 by monika, 7 January 2016

A culture of fear, isolation and guilt is enshrined in law. The old political order should be thoroughly ashamed

An Alliance for Choice abortion rally in Parliament Square, London, in 2008. ‘Such is the macho, sectarian politics of Northern Ireland that the province remains saddled with Victorian law.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

An Alliance for Choice abortion rally in Parliament Square, London, in 2008. ‘Such is the macho, sectarian politics of Northern Ireland that the province remains saddled with Victorian law.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

To grasp the real meaning of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, put out of mind the finger-jabbing abstractions of the Protestant politicians and the Catholic priests, and instead listen to the voices of the women who have lived with the practical consequences. This week they have been sharing their stories through the Guardian: tales of racking up debts to fund clinic fees in England, of lonely flights taken without the partner who should have been there to hold a hand, tales of seeking advice from doctors too fearful of prison to say anything useful, of sourcing illicit pills on the internet and fervently hoping that you’ve read the instructions right, and of the need to get your story straight before making a judgment about whether the bleeding has got to the point where A&E cannot be avoided.

Such terrible things are happening within the UK of 2016. One lesson is the sheer futility of presuming to second-guess the ethical and practical judgments that women make about their own wombs. However much a moralising lawmaker may wish to force a woman to carry on with a pregnancy she does not want, whatever obstacles he may put in the way of her taking control, he will often fail. When an unwanted pregnancy can warp a whole future, neither the travel costs nor the dangers of self-administered treatment will be a decisive deterrent, any more than the occasional horrors of the backstreet abortion prevented them happening back in Britain’s own Vera Drake days. The rest of the UK woke up to this reality half a century ago, with the Abortion Act of 1967. But such is the macho, sectarian politics of Northern Ireland that the province remains saddled with Victorian law, and indeed, in certain respects, the last few years have seen the regime of criminalisation become harsher.

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Belfast woman who took abortion pills tells police: ‘arrest me or change the law’

Posted in politics on January 9th, 2016 by monika, 7 January 2016 by Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

Suzanne Lee, unable to afford to travel to England for abortion in 2012, bought the medically tested pills online

A young Northern Irish woman who broke the law by taking medically tested abortion pills bought online has challenged the Police Service of Northern Ireland to arrest her and the Public Prosecution Service in the region to prosecute her.
Suzanne Lee from Belfast, who took the pills in August 2012 during her third year at university, said: “Either you arrest me and charge me, or you change this law.”
Lee said that as a student she could not afford around £1,000 to go to England for a termination.
“I didn’t really want to go to England anyway as I wanted to be around people who knew what I was going through. I didn’t want it in this kind of clinical setting where no one knew me – where I was just another number – so the best plan of action was to order the abortion pills off the net.”
Other women who bought the pills online have told the Guardian they have wiped out their internet search histories and deleted their text messages in case the data is used as evidence against them in court.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply. Under a 19th-century law – the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – anyone carrying out an abortion except under some extremely limited circumstances can be jailed for life.
The climate of fear among women who have procured pills from the Women on the Web NGO and has intensified due to the recent prosecution of a Northern Irish mother. She faces trial for procuring abortion pills for her underage daughter. Pro-choice activists believe someone reported her to the PSNI after she visited a local hospital for post-termination care.
The woman has been charged with procuring a poison or other noxious substance, in this case mifepristone and misoprostol, in the knowledge that they were to be used to cause a miscarriage.
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From Nagpur to Northern Ireland: pill pipeline helping women get round abortion laws

Posted in politics on January 7th, 2016 by monika, 6 January 2016  by Juliette Jovit

Dutch activists provide link between Indian entrepreneur providing cost-price tablets and desperate people in places where terminations are otherwise unavailable

Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of the charity Women on Web, which helps those seeking an abortion. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of the charity Women on Web, which helps those seeking an abortion. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Delicious smells permeate a small office in Nagpur as an elderly woman cooks lunch for the 40-odd staff: roti, steamed rice, moong bean dal, spicy potato hash and mutter paneer curry.

It’s all a long way, geographically and culturally, from the streets of Belfast nearly 5,000 away. But the two cities are joined by a hidden thread, a pharma pipeline that is helping many hundreds of women in Northern Ireland to get around its stringent anti-abortion law.

From the “Orange City”, as Nagpur, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, is known, a company called NN Agencies sources abortion pills that are freely available across India, and sends them to places where women can’t get abortions. Places such as Northern Ireland.
The man at the centre of the operation is Mohan Kale, a 45-year-old bespectacled entrepreneur with an easygoing nature.
Once this was a business for Kale, but influenced by his wife, Maitreyi, a social worker involved in sex education, he began supplying the tablets at cost (around 72 rupees – 72p – per set of nine pills compared with the retail price of around 900 rupees) to countries where it is illegal. Kale’s other companies make money by exporting treatments for chronic conditions such as diabetes.
“To me it is very clear that the choice of whether a pregnancy is desired or undesired and whether she wants it or not has to rest with a woman because it is her body,” he says, “and she has to have access to resources required to make an effective choice, no matter what the law of the land says.”

Each year more than 2,000 women travel from Northern Ireland to England to have pregnancies terminated, but Aishling was too frightened of being discovered by her boyfriend. She Googled medical abortion and found Women on Web.
“You can’t just say because it’s in another country it doesn’t affect you,” says Gomperts. “Human rights affect all of us.”

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Northern Ireland women take free abortion battle to Supreme Court

Posted in politics on December 26th, 2015 by monika,  23/12/2015

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The Supreme Court has given the women permission to appeal

A teenager and her mother who are fighting for women from Northern Ireland to receive free abortions on the NHS in England are to have their case heard at the UK’s highest court.

Supreme Court justices are to hear their challenge against a Court of Appeal ruling earlier this year which went against them.
After their case was rejected by three judges in London in July they vowed to continue their “landmark” legal battle. Their lawyer announced at the time that they did “not intend to give up”.
The Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that the court has granted them permission to appeal.
During the Court of Appeal proceedings, Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Lord Justice Elias and Lord Justice McCombe heard that the case was of considerable importance as an estimated 2,000 women and girls from Northern Ireland – where abortion is illegal apart from in exceptional circumstances – come to England for terminations every year.
The 18-year-old applicant in the case was aged 15 when she made the journey in October 2012 with her mother and was told she had to pay hundreds of pounds for a private termination because she was excluded from free abortion services.

Referred to in court as A to protect her identity, she and her mother challenged a decision made by Mr Justice King at the High Court in May last year that the exclusion was lawful.
The case was brought by A and her mother, referred to as B, who travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester for A’s abortion.
When the case was before the High Court, Mr Justice King ruled that the Health Secretary was entitled to adopt a residence-based system so that women resident in Northern Ireland are not entitled to benefit from NHS abortion services in England, even though they are UK citizens.
He declared A had no right under Article 8 (right to privacy and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights to a state-funded abortion, and there was no breach of anti-discrimination laws under Article 14.
The appeal judges heard from Stephen Cragg QC, for the teenager and her mother, that the situation was causing desperation and stress for women and girls.
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The Best Abortion Law Is No Abortion Law at All

Posted in politics on December 4th, 2015 by monika, 02/12/2015 by Ann Furedi

Women in Northern Irelandrepealing the 8th amendment of abortion law

Brian Lawless/PA Archive

It would take the hardest of hearts not to welcome Monday’s High Court judgement in Northern Ireland, which has opened the door for women pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or with a fetus affected by a fatal fetal abnormality, to access abortion.
Until now, under a nineteenth-century law that prohibits abortion, medical teams could be jailed for life for carrying out abortions even in these extreme circumstances. Unlike the rest of the UK, the Abortion Act 1967 has never applied to Northern Ireland, and since devolution Stormont has steadfastly rejected any suggestion that the law should be changed. Consequently, abortion is only permitted if the woman’s life is directly threatened, or if she would suffer serious and long-term damage to her health.
Mr Justice Horner may have changed this by ruling that the ban was in breach of human-rights law, and should be changed as it is ‘unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future’. Still, it is not over yet. Following suggestions that the attorney general may appeal the ruling, and in light of Stormont’s previous intransigence, Horner has suggested that a referendum may be required to enact his conclusions.

A referendum on abortion in Northern Ireland could result in some interesting challenges for local politicians. In Northern Ireland, as in the Irish Republic, hundreds of women end unwanted pregnancies already. Either they travel to England or other European countries, where they must pay for treatment, or, increasingly, they obtain medication on the web, as well as through friends or self-help networks, to induce an early miscarriage at home. Neither of these options is ideal. Travel is expensive and self-treatment carries risks – medicines bought online are not always what you think they are. What’s more, when women try to go abroad, customs officials try to intercept them. However these methods have resulted in a significant change to the way abortion is understood: it is more normalised and openly talked about than ever.
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Northern Ireland law on abortion ruled ‘incompatible with human rights’

Posted in politics on December 1st, 2015 by monika, 30 November 2015 by Henry McDonald

Northern Ireland law on abortion ruled ‘incompatible with human rights’
•    High court judgment in Belfast could lead to women being allowed to have terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest
•    Attorney general in Northern Ireland says he was “profoundly disappointed by this decision and I am considering grounds for appeal.”

A high court judge has ruled that Northern Ireland’s almost outright ban on abortion breaches the human rights of women and girls, including rape victims.

The historic judgment, delivered in Belfast on Monday, could lead to women and girls who are the victims of rape and incest as well those suffering from fatal foetal abnormalities having terminations in Northern Irish hospitals.

The Royal College of Midwives has welcomed the landmark judgement in Belfast High Court. Breedagh Hughes, the RCM’s Northern Ireland Director, said it would give some legal protection for all health professionals faced with the possibility of carrying out terminations in local hospitals

Hughes said: “Today’s ruling is extremely welcome. It now gives midwives and other health professionals legal protection and a release from the fear of prosecution. This will enable midwives to offer women who have a diagnosis of fatal foetal anomaly the appropriate care, support and advice that they also have often been denied because of the Assembly’s inertia.”

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Northern Ireland’s abortion laws: share your experiences

Posted in politics on November 26th, 2015 by monika, Wednesday 25 November 2015, by Carmen Fishwick

Northern Ireland’s harsh abortion laws have the most severe criminal penelties in Europe. Share your experiences of accessing abortion in the region with us.

A pro-choice abortion campaigner in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The United Nations has denounced Northern Ireland’s ban on most abortions. Photograph: Alamy

A pro-choice abortion campaigner in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The United Nations has denounced Northern Ireland’s ban on most abortions. Photograph: Alamy

Women and girls looking to access abortion in Northern Ireland face harsh restrictions and the most severe criminal penalities in Europe, putting lives at risk and forcing women to travel in order to seek abortion or send for abortion pills in the post.
Only in extremely restricted circumstances, where there is a risk to a pregnant woman’s life or a real and serious risk of long-term damage to her physical or mental health, is abortion permitted. The 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland and all the main local political parties are opposed to liberalising the strict laws.
Just 23 legal abortions were carried out in Northern Ireland on the NHS in 2013-14, yet it is estimated that 2,000 Northern Irish women travel to English hospitals and clinics every year to access the medical procedure.
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‘It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done’: the Irish women forced to travel for abortions

Posted in politics on November 11th, 2015 by monika, 31 October 2015, by Amelia Gentleman

At least 4,500 women from Ireland travel to England each year for an abortion. Photograph: Liz McBurney for the Guardian

At least 4,500 women from Ireland travel to England each year for an abortion. Photograph: Liz McBurney for the Guardian

Every year, thousands of women come from Ireland to England for abortions – illegal at home, and punishable in Northern Ireland by life imprisonment. These are their stories.
By 10.30am, 10 minutes before her first appointment, Catriona is already grey-faced with exhaustion and so tired that talking is a struggle; her words fall out on top of each other. She is six weeks pregnant and has travelled overnight by boat from a small town an hour outside Belfast to Liverpool for an abortion. She took the boat because it was cheaper than flying and because she had no passport, and didn’t have the money or the time to get one; but it has been a difficult journey and she hasn’t slept. Tonight, after the procedure, she will go back by boat, a second night sitting bolt upright, trying to sleep. This is her first trip to England.
“A lot of bad things have happened to me in my life, but this has been the worst,” says the 28-year-old single mother who, like all the women I spoke to for this article, did not want to use her real name. It’s not the abortion itself that is troubling her; she has two sons already, and no desire to expand her family. It’s the difficulties involved in getting herself, at short notice, to England for a medical procedure considered a criminal offence punishable by life imprisonment in Northern Ireland. In total, the cost of the round trip and the abortion will come to about £570. Over the past three weeks, while saving for the journey, she has cut down on the food for the family and hasn’t bought oil to heat the house. “We’ve been going to my mum’s house, where there’s a fire; she’s been giving food to the boys.”
Catriona hadn’t realised abortion law in Northern Ireland was so restrictive. When she told her GP she didn’t want to keep the baby, the doctor said she couldn’t help her and that travelling to England was the only option; she gave her a piece of paper with a telephone number for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who booked her into the Liverpool clinic.
Northern Ireland’s abortion laws have added multiple layers of stress to an already difficult situation for Catriona – expense, secrecy, stigma and logistical difficulties. “I’m not feeling too well,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s tiredness or the travelling, the thinking what is going to happen, the wondering if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.” Her mother’s boyfriend has made the journey with her, to give her support, but no one else apart from her mother knows she is away. “You feel like it has to be a big secret. I didn’t tell the children. I haven’t told my friends… I think they would be sympathetic, but most of them are Catholic and think it’s a sin, so I never mentioned it. There’s so much negativity about it. They make it out to be so bad. You still know it is right for you, but in your head you are thinking, maybe it is bad.”

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‘I’m in Trouble’: The Women Boarding Ireland’s Illegal Abortion Bus

Posted in politics on October 28th, 2015 by monika

Vice News,  October 26, 2015 by Sally Hayden

A pro-choice campaigner looks out from the "abortion pill bus." (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

A pro-choice campaigner looks out from the “abortion pill bus.” (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Sarah was just two weeks pregnant when she discovered an illegal abortion bus was coming to town.
“I have a four year old girl, I have a mortgage, it’s a new relationship, it’s not a good time,” the 31-year-old told VICE News, adding that she had been using contraception. “I just started a degree course, I work, I can’t afford a baby right now.”
Sarah — who asked that we change her name — lives in Limerick, a small, riverside city on the southwest of Ireland, a country where abortions are almost always illegal. She was making arrangements to travel to the UK to obtain a termination when she found out about a direct action, organized by a group called called ROSA (short for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism, and Austerity), which might be able to help her.

VICE News spent two days this week traveling around Ireland with this group of activists and one member of parliament who had decided to wilfully break the law and risk up to 14 years in prison by distributing the World Health Organization-approved medical abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol to women.
Their whistle-stop tour of the country finished on Saturday, but participants told VICE News on Monday that they have still had no contact from the police, something they say proves authorities are unwilling to prosecute people under the anti-abortion law because they welcome “escape valves.”
Despite protests and media attention, a significant number of women came to the bus to ask for help, and VICE News can confirm that at least one — Sarah — procured pills for imminent use, while others will be given them over the next few days.

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