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Suicide risk to woman accused of using poison to have abortion, court hears

By Alan Erwin

A vulnerable woman accused of taking drugs to secure an abortion will be at heightened risk of suicide if she is identified, a court in Belfast has heard.

Lawyers for the 21-year-old argued that a medical expert has concluded publicity would increase the threat of self-harm.

Details emerged at a bid to secure reporting restrictions to protect her anonymity during criminal proceedings.

The woman has been charged along with a 22-year-old man.

She is accused with using a poison to procure her own abortion.

The alleged offence involves administering noxious substances, namely the drugs Mifepristone and Misoprostol.

Her co-defendant faces a count of supplying a poison with the intent to procure a miscarriage.

The charges, under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, relate to incidents in Belfast in 2015.

Terminations are currently only allowed in Northern Ireland if the woman's life or long-term health is at serious risk.

At Belfast Magistrates' Court on Wednesday counsel for the woman referred to three previous episodes of self-harm involving his client.

Jonpaul Shields presented a report from a consultant forensic psychiatrist to back his case that press exposure would exacerbate the risk.

"The way she is described is as a vulnerable and immature individual," he said.

"(The doctor) has identified suicide and self-harm as a risk.

"The trigger she has identified is the fact of prosecution and the attendant publicity associated with it."

During exchanges District Judge Fiona Bagnall stressed the high threshold for interfering with the principles of open justice.

"In order to take the exceptional step of saying you can't report this particular aspect of the case, not only do I have to be satisfied of a real and immediate risk, but that it is specifically related to publication."

Reserving judgment on the anonymity application, Judge Bagnall imposed a temporary ban on naming either accused.

But she pointed out: "If there's any reporting restriction it will be confined to the identification and address of the defendant and possibly the co-defendant."

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