Helpline to be launched across Ireland for women who used abortion pills
A free helpline for women who have used online abortion pills is to be launched across Ireland.
The confidential "aftercare" support from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) will provide reassurance and advice for those who have taken tablets ordered from two websites.
Strict laws surround terminations on both sides of the Irish border and BPAS said some women may not seek help as they knew they were committing a criminal offence.
Chief executive Ann Furedi said: "What these women really need are accessible, high-quality abortion services at home.
"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 from these two women's organisations 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."
In Northern Ireland the maximum penalty for the crime of administering a drug to induce miscarriage under the Offences Against The Person Act 1861, is life imprisonment.
In April a 21-year-old woman was handed a suspended sentence by a judge in Belfast after she bought drugs on the internet to induce a miscarriage because she could not afford to fly to England for a lawful termination.
In the Irish Republic, the offence of procuring an abortion carries a potential 14-year jail term.
The new helpline staffed by nurses will be advertised in newspapers in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man.
It will offer advice to women who have obtained pills from two websites and who are concerned about any symptoms or who want to speak to someone.
The advisory service said: "Women in these areas are increasingly using this option as the logistics and costs of travel, treatment and accommodation can be prohibitive."
Dawn McAvoy, spokeswoman for the Evangelical Alliance, said women needed support, not a publicity stunt.
"Groups need to work together to provide the best possible care for women and children within the current law, because both lives matter.
"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."