Northern Ireland

Abortion pills prosecution challenge by NI mother adjourned

Pregnancy test Image copyright Getty Images

A judicial review taken by a Northern Ireland woman accused of buying abortion pills online for her 15-year-old daughter has been adjourned.

She is accused of procuring and supplying poison with the intent to cause a miscarriage in July 2013.

However, she is challenging the decision to prosecute her.

If the prosecution goes ahead, the woman faces a criminal trial with the possibility of up to 10 years in prison.

The mother faces two charges of unlawfully procuring and supplying the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol with intent to procure a miscarriage, contrary to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

'Inhuman treatment'

She is challenging a decision by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to take a case against her.

Reporting restrictions mean the mother and daughter cannot be identified.

Her lawyers have argued that conception followed underage sex and that compelling the girl to continue with her pregnancy would have been inhuman treatment under European law.

The woman is being supported by the civil rights group Amnesty.

Lawyers for the PPS have argued there was "no prospect of establishing inhuman treatment" in the case.

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Media captionThe law on abortion in Northern Ireland explained

Taking abortion pills while pregnant without medical approval is illegal across the UK.

While NHS abortion treatment is free and widely available in Great Britain, the UK has the harshest punishment for self-induced abortion of any country in Europe, bar the Republic of Ireland.

Two women in England have been jailed for using the abortion pill bought online.

In 2012, 40-year-old Sarah Catt was jailed for eight years for terminating her pregnancy with pills she had bought online when she was 39 weeks pregnant.

Natalie Towers, 26, was sentenced to two-and-a half-years in 2015 after using the pill to terminate her pregnancy while she was between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant.

In April 2016, a 21-year-old woman received a suspended jail sentence after admitting self-terminating a pregnancy with drugs purchased online.

How does the law in NI differ from the rest of the UK?

Taking drugs to bring on a miscarriage without doctors' consent is an offence anywhere in the UK under the 1861 act.

But in England, Scotland and Wales an abortion can be legally carried out up to the 24-week limit and can be legal beyond that limit in cases where the mother's health is threatened or if there is a substantial risk the baby will have serious disabilities.

Women in Northern Ireland only have access to abortions when a woman's life is at risk, or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

Women in England will be allowed to take an early abortion pill at home, under a government plan due to take effect by the end of the year, bringing the law into law with Scotland and Wales.

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