11:55, April 09 250 0 theguardian.com

2018-04-09 11:55:06
Belfast council to debate abortion pills motion

Belfast City council will be asked on Monday night to condemn the arrest and attempted prosecution of women in Northern Ireland who procure abortion pills online.

The council will debate a motion denouncing cases such as that involving a mother who obtained abortion pills for her 15-year-old daughter who was raped. The mother faces prosecution in a court case in Belfast next month.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Ellen Campbell and the Alliance party’s Kate Nicholl have put the proposal to the council with the backing of Amnesty International and the Family Planning Association.

Nicholl said she proposed the motion because: “Prohibition of abortion does not stop abortion, it stops safe abortion. Prosecutions deter women and girls from seeking medical assistance which will inevitably affect their health.”

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply. Abortion is only legal in the region’s hospitals when there is a direct threat to a woman’s life.

In 2016 a woman received a one-year suspended sentence at Belfast crown court for procuring her own abortion by using a poison, and of supplying a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage. The court was told she had been arrested after her flatmates in Belfast reported her.

An estimated 2,000 women travel from Northern Ireland to English hospitals and clinics every year to have terminations. These are now available free to Northern Irish women on the NHS after legislation was introduced in a private member’s bill by the Labour MP Stella Creasy last year.

Grainne Teggart, the Northern Ireland campaigns manager for Amnesty International, said the vote at Belfast City Hall on Monday was important for women’s rights across the region.

“Belfast City council, whilst not a lawmaking body, can stand by women and send a message that they should not be criminalised and face potential jail time for seeking to exercise their basic right to healthcare,” Teggart said.