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Deep divisions over plan for abortion pill advice line

By Allan Preston

Published 02/09/2016

The PSNI should take action against women who call a free helpline to be launched across Ireland for people who have used abortion pills bought online, pro-life activists have said. File image
The PSNI should take action against women who call a free helpline to be launched across Ireland for people who have used abortion pills bought online, pro-life activists have said. File image

The PSNI should take action against women who call a free helpline to be launched across Ireland for people who have used abortion pills bought online, pro-life activists have said.

But supporters have argued that the service offers a safety net to women let down by politicians here.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is launching the helpline to provide advice to women who take tablets ordered from two websites.

The group said strict laws on both sides of the border meant some women would not seek out help because they feared being treated as a criminal.

Chief executive Ann Furedi added: "While we wait for politicians to do the right thing, BPAS will provide telephone aftercare to women who have bought pills online from these two women's organisations and who want to speak to someone in confidence about what they are experiencing."

In Northern Ireland, administering drugs to induce a miscarriage carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

In April, a 21-year-old woman from Belfast received a suspended sentence after buying drugs on the internet to induce a miscarriage.

In June, pro-choice activists illegally flew abortion medication into Northern Ireland at Warrenpoint using a drone.

Bernie Smyth, director of the anti-abortion group Precious Life, said police should act if a woman from Northern Ireland called the helpline.

"Women and unborn children must be protected from the likes of the BPAS, Marie Stopes International and pro-abortion activists who sell illegal abortion drugs online and instruct women via hotlines to buy and use these deadly abortion drugs," she added.

"That is why we expect the PSNI to intervene if a woman from Northern Ireland were to contact the BPAS helpline after having an abortion."

But Emma Campbell, chair of Alliance for Choice, defended the service. "The provision of this line offers another safety net where the Assembly still refuses to acknowledge the health needs of pregnant people," she said.

"In light of the recent prosecution, it is a beacon of light for many who will have questions and nowhere else to turn."

Breedagh Hughes, director of the Royal College of Midwives here, said she supported the helpline, but could not endorse buying abortion pills online.

"Anything that helps women that find themselves in a very distressing situation can only be helpful," she told the BBC.

She said she also feared women could die from using medication purchased online.

"It's a backstreet abortion using another method - it's not coat hangers anymore, it's pills bought online," she added.

The PSNI warned people against taking drugs not prescribed to them, cautioning that the side effects could be "potentially very harmful".

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