Northern Ireland

Abortion: Controversial 'helpline' set up in Northern Ireland

Woman holding sign Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A woman can have an abortion in Northern Ireland, but only under very restricted circumstances

A telephone helpline has been set up in Northern Ireland for women who have bought so-called abortion pills online.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service service said it will offer advice to women concerned about any symptoms they have after taking the illegal pills.

However, anti-abortion campaigners have said the helpline is a "publicity stunt".

The law surrounding abortion in Northern Ireland is much stricter than in the rest of the UK.

A woman can have an abortion, but only in very specific circumstances.

Illegal pills

It is only permitted if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

Taking drugs to bring on a miscarriage without doctors' consent is an offence anywhere in the UK under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

Criminal offence

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said that while adverse events were "extremely unlikely", some women may not seek help from a doctor when they need it because they are committing a criminal offence.

The service will also be available in the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the BPAS, said: "What these women really need are accessible, high-quality abortion services at home.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Anti-abortion groups oppose changes to the law in Northern Ireland

"They shouldn't have to make the choice between travelling to England and breaking the law by purchasing pills online.

"While we wait for politicians to do the right thing, BPAS will provide telephone aftercare to women who have bought pills online and who want to speak to someone in confidence about what they are experiencing, or who simply need a reassuring voice at the end of the line.

"We will be here for these women 24 hours a day until they no longer need us."

'Publicity stunt'

However, Marion Woods of the anti-abortion group, Life NI, told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster that the helpline was "a publicity stunt".

She said support for women needing help should be provided "within the framework of our law".

Mrs Woods said a newspaper advertisement issued by BPAS "challenges our government, challenges our law".

"How safe are these pills in the first place?" she added.

Dawn McAvoy, spokeswoman for the Evangelical Alliance, said women needed support.

"Groups need to work together to provide the best possible care for women and children within the current law, because both lives matter," she said.

"We want Northern Ireland to continue to value the life and health of the woman and the unborn child, advancing the wellbeing of both because both lives matter."

Breedagh Hughes, Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said "anything that helps women that find themselves in a very distressing situation can only be helpful".

She said the RCM was "quite clear that they should not be obtaining pills online, that we would much prefer that this was a prescribed medication given under medical direction".

Ms Hughes said they feared that "we may begin to see over the next few years women begin to die again from botched abortions.

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

In a statement, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said it "would like to take this opportunity to remind members of the public not to take any prescription drugs that have not been prescribed to them.

"The taking of any prescription drug is potentially very harmful and can result in developing serious complications if used without the appropriate medical supervision".

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