Pro-choice campaigners have flown abortion pills out to Northern Ireland by drone in a peaceful protest against the region’s abortion laws.
The pills were attached to the drone on Tuesday in Omeath in County Louth (near the Northern Ireland border) and were then swallowed by women at Narrow Water shortly afterwards in front of a crowd. The pills were safely prescribed by a doctor, and police officers at the scene did nothing to confiscate them.
The protest was organized by pro-choice campaign groups Alliance for Choice, Rosa, Labour Alternative and Women on Waves. They described the event as “an all-island act of solidarity between women in the north and the south to highlight the violation of human rights caused by the existing laws that criminalise abortion in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland except in very limited circumstances”.
It is not just campaigners who view the law as unjust. The Belfast High Court recently announced that the current law “breaches human rights”. As the more lenient 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland, an abortion there is only legal if there is “a risk of a real and serious adverse effect on a woman’s long-term physical or mental health”.
The inflexible nature of the law means that thousands of Northern Irish women travel to England every year to receive the abortions that they cannot legally get at home.
For women who cannot afford to travel to England, illegal abortions are the only other option and the threat of prosecution is very real. A 25-year-old woman from Belfast describes the culture of fear surrounding illegal abortions that leave women ”too frightened to go to the doctor, too afraid to tell anyone”. Even those providing abortion drugs risk a maximum sentence of life imprisonment under the ‘Offences Against the Person Act’ (1861).
Abortion pills are a safe early abortion method – they only work with women who are under twelve weeks pregnant. An increasing number of women in Northern Ireland are finding abortion pills on the internet. The first known pill-related prosecution of a woman, who pleaded guilty to aborting her baby at age 19, happened just two months ago. After twelve weeks, pregnant women wanting abortions in Northern Ireland are in a very precarious situation as they feel they cannot go to a doctor, and there have even been cases of women attempting to perform abortions on themselves.
While there is fear of prosecution, women who seek abortions are suffering in silence, which can have a severe impact on their mental, and sometimes physical, health. Tuesday’s protest was an example of women uniting in Ireland, in an effort to protect each other from the risks they are subjected to under the current abortion law that breaches their human rights.