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Belfast City Council passes motion to decriminalise use of abortion pills

The North’s abortion laws are considered some of the most severe in the world, according to Amnesty.

Abortion pill stunt A package of abortion pills, delivered using a drone by choice activists from the Irish Republic, at Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint in Co Down. PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

BELFAST CITY COUNCIL have passed a motion to decriminalise women who use abortion pills.

The motion comes ahead of a court case next month involving a mother who is being prosecuted for buying abortion pills for her teenage daughter.

With specific reference to abortion pills, the motion proposed:

“…The Council believes that abortion should be regulated like any other medical care and not by criminal law, while still enabling incidents of malpractice to be addressed, as with any other health service, through the general criminal law or medical disciplinary procedures.

“A woman who has an abortion is not a criminal, nor are healthcare professionals who care for them, and the law should not treat them as such.”

It passed with 34 votes for, 16 against and 5 non-votes, according to Amnesty’s campaign manager for Northern Ireland, Grainne Teggart.

In a statement earlier today, Amnesty International said it supported the motion, criticising the North’s abortion laws as “the harshest criminal penalties in Europe”. Someone who helps carry out an abortion in the North can face up to life in prison.

The motion has been proposed by Councillor Kate Nicholl of Alliance Party and seconded by Councillor Mary Ellen Campbell of Sinn Féin.

Councillor Campbell said tonight that “it is wrong to criminalise women who choose to have an abortion… [and] also wrong to criminalise those healthcare professionals who have a duty of care to vulnerable patients”.

The criminal law on abortion is grounded in a legislation dating back to 1861 and can carry a lengthy sentence.
In practise, this means a terrified teenager who buys abortion pills online because she feels she can’t confide in her family GP, can face jail time.

She said that the criminal law attached to abortion “has a chilling effect” on medical practice and on doctors willingness to authorise terminations.

“The threat of prosecution, that is unique to abortion, also deters doctors from wanting to enter the realm of women’s healthcare or train in this area.

This is about compassion and it is about trust. And I trust women.

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