Northern Ireland

Activist Helen Crickard speaks out about abortion pill searches

Helen Crickard
Image caption The office of women's rights activist, Helen Crickard, was searched at part of a PSNI investigation into abortion pills

A woman whose office was searched in an investigation into the online purchase of abortion pills has said she feels violated and shocked by what happened.

Helen Crickard, who is a pro-choice campaigner, said the suggestion that she had abortion instruments made her feel like a back street abortionist.

No pills were found during the raid.

The searches, conducted by the Police Service Of Northern Ireland (PSNI), were carried out on International Women's Day.

As celebrations and rallies were taking place around the country on 8 March, police officers arrived at Ms Crickard's workshop in south Belfast.

The search warrant stated that they intended to seize her laptop, mobile phone and bank documents.

Police were also looking for "drugs or instruments to cause abortion".

Colleagues in neighbouring offices looked on bemused, some were shocked at what was unfolding.

Acting legally

Ms Crickard was not there at the time and police left empty-handed.

She said while the allegation of having abortion pills was worrying, the allegation of also having instruments to cause abortion was shocking and threatening.

Image caption Helen Crickard showed the BBC the warrant used to search her premises

She told the BBC that it felt like the PSNI was looking for some sort of backstreet abortion clinic.

It is important to remember that the police are acting legally.

They are arriving at premises with search warrants.

It is also important to note that the purchase and use of abortion pills is illegal throughout the UK.

Criminalised

However, the difference between other regions and Northern Ireland is that women elsewhere can avail of health care from hospitals when faced with an unwanted pregnancy.

Women in England, Scotland and Wales are allowed to have an abortion within the first 24 weeks of their pregnancy, if it is carried out in a hospital or a licensed clinic.

The PSNI is policing a difficult situation. Some of the drugs purchased online may be dangerous.

Women caught in the situation are often frightened, confused and acting alone.

While all the political parties in Northern Ireland stated that women found in such circumstances should not be criminalised, they appear reluctant to change to the law to uphold that.

It remains another issue to support the notion that the sooner Stormont and its institutions are rebooted, the better.