Leading pro-life campaigners last night called for a thorough investigation into the easy availability of abortion drugs to women in Northern Ireland —which can be applied for in just 15 minutes over the internet.
Abortion opponents spoke of their horror after it emerged that women here are among those turning to the internet to buy medication which enables them to terminate a pregnancy from home.
The Belfast Telegraph investigated the process women go through when buying abortion drugs from the web — and found the application process took just 15 minutes at a cost of 70 euro.
We filled out a questionnaire on the Women on Web website aimed at giving an unidentified doctor the information needed to decide suitability for a medical abortion.
It ended with a response saying that it was “very likely” that the doctor would approve a request for abortion.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, chair of the Assembly’s Pro-Life Group, said people must adhere to local laws which prohibit abortion.
Bernadette Smyth, director of the anti-abortion group Precious Life, said she was greatly disturbed that women were able to buy abortion pills over the internet.
The group was reacting to news that women in Northern Ireland were among those from more than 70 other countries which also have strict abortion laws who have used websites offering the service, such as Women on Web.
It offers women “a medical abortion which uses a combination of pills to cause the non-surgical termination of an early pregnancy up until the ninth week of pregnancy”.
Women on Web posts the drugs only to countries where abortion is heavily restricted, and to women who declare they are less than nine weeks pregnant.
Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland unless it is deemed that the life of the mother is in danger or that the pregnancy would cause serious risk to the woman's physical or mental health.
The Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland confirmed it has had several calls from women considering buying abortion pills online.
It also said Women on Web is a “reputable and helpful” website and that its concern is with rogue websites offering such medication.
Its director Audrey Simpson said: "But for Northern Ireland women, it is encouraging them to break the law — and as an organisation, we have to work within the law.”
Mr Donaldson called for a full investigation of the matter.
“It is unlawful for people to use these drugs to bring about an abortion in Northern Ireland.
“This matter will have to be investigated by the appropriate bodies to prevent the sale of these drugs here,” he said.
“This is clearly a very complicated and sensitive issue and it would have to be examined first of all who would be responsible for monitoring and taking action against these websites — it is possible that it could be a criminal matter.”
The Lagan Valley MP said he was concerned about how easy it is for women to access the drugs.
“There are always risks involved and there could be dangers to the life of the expectant mum.
“I would urge any woman thinking of turning to one of these websites to seek help and advice from their GP.”
Ms Smyth said she would be calling for a complete ban on such websites.
“This is a horrendous type of abortion which will traumatise many, many women.
“This is the equivalent of bringing backstreet, illegal abortions to Northern Ireland,” she said.
“There are great psychological and physical dangers in turning to a chemical abortion, whether it is through a clinic or bought off the internet.
“Women in this position have to deliver the foetus alone at home which is very distressing.”