Belfast Telegraph

Prosecution of Northern Ireland mum for buying daughter abortion pills 'did not breach human rights,' court rules

Belfast High Court.
Belfast High Court.

By Alan Erwin

A decision to prosecute a Northern Ireland woman for buying her 15-year-old daughter abortion pills did not breach their human rights, the High Court ruled.

The mother faced charges over her online purchases until being acquitted in October when terminations were decriminalised in the region.

She issued landmark legal challenge along with her child, claiming the criminal proceedings violated their rights to private and family life.

But judges held the prosecution was brought lawfully, with a legitimate aim of deterring medically unsupervised administration of medication to procure an abortion where there was a risk to the girl's health.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan stressed she had been misled in thinking her mother's actions would have been legal in England, Scotland or Wales.

Based on the absence of medical supervision, the decision to charge the woman was in line with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Sir Declan said: "We consider that the decision to prosecute was not unreasonable in light of the risk to the health of the child."

The mother at the centre of the case had been facing trial before the changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

In 2013 her schoolgirl daughter became pregnant during an allegedly physically and verbally abusive relationship. Neither the girl nor her mother can be identified.

She set out her reasons for not wanting to go through with the pregnancy, explaining that she was only 15 and frightened of being a mother.

The girl stated that she was still a child herself, uncertain if she would be able to cope, and with hopes of going on to university, the court heard.

She also told her mother about the alleged damaging influence of her ex-boyfriend.

"The idea of (him) being the father of my child and having him in my life in the long term made me physically ill," the girl said.

"I was also genuinely afraid that if I did have the child he would continue to use the fact of his being the father to abuse me and I was also fearful that he could physically abuse the child if I decided to go through with a pregnancy."

Feeling vulnerable and unable to travel to England for a termination, her mother purchased abortion pills online.

The woman faced two charges of unlawfully procuring and supplying drugs with intent to procure a miscarriage, contrary to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

The family's legal team claimed compelling the girl to continue with a crisis pregnancy would have breached rights to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment.

And prosecuting her mother for enabling her to access medication to obtain an abortion also violated those entitlements, along with rights to privacy and family life, it was contended.

Delivering judgment in the case, Sir Declan identified a balance between the public interest in charging the mother and any interference with the family.

"The decision to prosecute needs to be seen, therefore, in the context of child protection and exposure to harm through unregulated treatment," he said.

"We recognise that the decision to prosecute will inevitably have caused upset to both applicants, but in our view the evidence adduced in relation to the effect of the decision to prosecute does not reach the level to lead to an infringement of Article 3 (freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment) in either case."

Dismissing the challenge, he confirmed: "The abortion laws of England and Wales and Scotland have recognised the need for measures to safeguard the health and personal safety of women taking abortion pills.

"The absence of wider abortion laws in Northern Ireland did not necessarily render it unreasonable to apply measures designed to safeguard the health and personal safety of women taking abortion pills in this jurisdiction."

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