Northern Ireland

Woman who bought drugs online to terminate pregnancy given suspended sentence

Belfast Crown Court
Image caption The woman was given a three-month prison sentence, which was suspended for 12 months

A young woman who bought drugs on the internet to induce a miscarriage has been given a suspended prison sentence.

She had been unable to raise enough money to travel to England for a termination

A defence barrister told Belfast Crown Court that had his client lived in any other region of the UK, she would "not have found herself before the courts".

The 21-year old bought two types of drugs online, took them and then miscarried on 12 July 2014.

She cannot be named because of a court order.

The male foetus, which was between 10 and 12 weeks, was later found in the bin of a house she shared with two other people.

The woman pleaded guilty to two charges - procuring her own abortion by using a poison, and of supplying a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage.

Police were alerted after the woman's two housemates contacted police, a week after finding blood-stained items and a foetus in the bin of the house they shared in south Belfast.

A prosecution lawyer told the court that when the woman moved into the house in May 2014, she told her two housemates that she was pregnant but that she was trying to raise the money to travel to England for a termination.

However, after she was unable to raise enough money, she contacted an abortion clinic in England for advice.

She claims that she was told by the clinic about two drugs that were available on the internet and which would induce a miscarriage.

When she was arrested, the then 19-year old made no comment in police interviews.

'Desperate measures'

A defence lawyer said his client's prosecution highlighted the difference in legislation between here and the rest of the UK.

He told the court: "Had she lived in any other jurisdiction, she would not have found herself before the court", adding she felt "victimised by the system."

He branded her actions as "a 19-year-old who felt trapped" and who turned to "such desperate measures".

The court also heard that the woman is now 21, has a new baby with her partner and is "trying to put her life back together again".

Before passing sentence, the judge said there were no guidelines or similar cases to compare this to, adding in his experience there have been no other prosecutions under this specific piece of legislation - namely Section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

He said the legislation was 150 years old and had been substantially amended in England, Scotland and Wales but not in Northern Ireland.

Acknowledging that as a UK citizen the woman could legally have travelled to England for a termination, Judge McFarland said that the advice given by the clinic "without knowledge of her background and details was perhaps inappropriate".

He also said that while there are agencies in Northern Ireland that give advice on such issues "unfortunately they are part of a polarised debate that can be part of a more toxic debate".

The woman was given a three-month prison sentence, which was suspended for 12 months.