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High-profile pills prosecutions in Northern Ireland may deter women from seeking medical care after illegal abortions, charity warns

High-profile pills prosecutions in Northern Ireland may deter women from seeking medical care after illegal abortions, charity warns

  • The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, is today warning that prosecutions for purchasing and using online abortion pills will deter women from seeking medical care if needed
  • BPAS has today launched an information campaign in Northern Ireland – including  a billboard in Belfast – to inform women of a 24 hour helpline in case they need confidential medical advice after taking online abortion pills
  • No healthcare professional is obliged to report women - but some may fear repercussions if they do not
  • Mother who purchased abortion pills online and who was granted a Judicial Review of her case last week was reported to police by a clinician

The increasing number of high-profile prosecutions of women who have purchased or used online abortion medication may deter women in need of medical advice from seeking care, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, has today warned. Last week, a judicial review was granted to a mother facing criminal prosecution after being reported to the police by a doctor for buying abortion medication for her young daughter. The charity is concerned that growing awareness of cases such as this will deter women from seeking follow-up care when needed for fear that they too will face criminal sanction.

No healthcare professional is obliged to report a woman who has undergone an unlawful abortion to the police. Professional guidance issued in 2016 by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety makes clear that the needs of patients come before a duty to report, and that maintaining patient confidentiality would be acceptable defence for not referring a woman to the police. However, the recent spate of prosecutions may have left some medical professionals concerned that if they do not report a woman who has used abortion pills, they themselves may face criminal sanction.

Abortion medication is very safe, but around one in six women who undergo abortion treatment at BPAS clinics in Great Britain will seek follow-up advice, largely for reassurance that their symptoms are normal. However, the rising numbers of prosecutions and growing awareness that medical professionals are reporting women to the police will leave some women afraid to seek care in Northern Ireland. Consequently, BPAS is launching an information campaign to highlight the helpline to women in Northern Ireland, including a billboard in central Belfast and via social media. The helpline can provide advice to women about their symptoms, and when further medical advice should be sought. The free service is available to women who have purchased pills from the not-for-profit online organisations Women On Web and Women Help Women, as these services provide exactly the same medications as a woman would receive at BPAS.

Ann Furedi, bpas Chief Executive, said:

“We have launched this information campaign today not to encourage women to break the law, but in recognition that this is happening. Northern Ireland’s strict abortion law means women determined to end a pregnancy but who cannot travel must turn to online pills. These women are no less deserving of follow-up care and support than the women we see in our clinics.

“Recent court proceedings have sent out a deeply worrying message - that women are not able to speak openly and honestly with their clinicians. Those who are driving the prosecutions have created a damaging climate of fear for women and those caring for them.

 “This helpline is not a panacea, and it can in no way compensate for the lack of abortion provision in Northern Ireland. But we know that there are women who are in need of care but afraid to access help. So today we want to send a clear message: if you have taken abortion pills and need advice, we are here for you, 24 hours a day, every day.”

ENDS

For more information please contact the bpas press office on 0207 061 3377, 07788 725185 or press@bpas.org

Notes to Editors:

About bpas

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at www.bpas.org