Northern Irish women risk jail for using abortion pills
As the abortion debate intensifies in the Republic, dozens of women in Northern Ireland have launched a new protest which carries the risk of imprisonment.
More than 100 women in the North risk imprisonment after publicly admitting they have taken abortion-inducing pills, which are illegal there.
The women have signed a letter openly confirming that they took abortion pills bought on the internet from pro-choice charities, further fuelling the debate prompted by the opening of the first private clinic to offer legal abortions to women there.
The 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act makes abortion illegal in most cases and carries a penalty of life imprisonment.
Several men who have helped women obtain the pills have also signed the letter, even though the 19th century act also makes it a serious offence to help someone procure an abortion.
The North is the only part of the UK where women cannot get an abortion through the National Health Service except in extreme circumstances, such as when a mother's life is at risk. As a result, thousands of Northern Irish women have crossed the Irish Sea to have terminations in English hospitals and clinics.
Pro-choice campaigners claim an attempt by assembly members Alban Maginness of the SDLP and the DUP's Paul Girvan to amend the North's criminal justice bill to make abortions outside the NHS illegal will prevent the recently opened Marie Stopes clinic in central Belfast from providing non-surgical, early-term procedures.
In their letter, the women state that they "have either taken the abortion pill or helped women to procure the abortion pill in order to cause an abortion here in Northern Ireland.
"We represent just a small fraction of those who have used, or helped others to use, this method because it is almost impossible to get an NHS abortion here, even when there is likely to be a legal entitlement to one.
"We were delighted when Marie Stopes came to Belfast, as it meant that women who are unwell can access a doctor to supervise what we have done or helped others to do without medical help. And therefore have a right to a legal abortion here."