As it stands there are two options for women seeking an abortion in Northern Ireland: to travel to the UK or to receive abortion pills by the post. Mifepristone and Misoprostol, taken together, can trigger a miscarriage up to the ninth week in pregnancy. These are available from online pharmacies, but they are expensive and one can never be completely sure that such pills are genuine. Furthermore, the Northern Ireland government combats such activity through postal screenings and seizures. A woman is being prosecuted as we speak for obtaining such pills for her under-age daughter. She has been charged with ‘procuring poison or other noxious substances for the purpose of causing a miscarriage’. If found guilty she could face five years in jail. It does seem rather perverse, in light of the stiff penalties above, that going abroad to procure an abortion is perfectly legal. The situation has become so routine in fact that we barely register the 16,000 women that come to the UK from Ireland and Northern Ireland each year to this. But as Mara Clarke, the founder of the Abortion Support Network, pointed out in the Guardian. ‘I knew if that many were coming over, then there’s 500 or 50 or 5 who aren’t coming over because they don’t have the money. That’s always the cost of restricting abortions- women who have money have abortions, women without money have babies, or they do really, really desperate things to not be pregnant.’ Despite this and growing calls for decriminalisation there is little movement in government.
There is a horrible double irony to all of this. Consider one harrowing, but by no means unique, case in which a women with two children, one disabled, found herself pregnant. Certain that she could not care for another child she made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. Without funds to buy pills or travel, however, she was faced with the prospect of delaying such action as she continued to work, whilst cutting down on daily necessitates, in order to raise the funds. She knew that during this time the foetus would continue to grow and that as it did so the heartache and the cost would increase. At 14 weeks the price doubles and at 19 weeks it trebles. In this cycle of abortion and poverty, the poor get poorer and the abortion takes place later and later (at a stage in which the procedure is worse for all concerned). Clarke said in an interview with the Guardian ‘Fewer than 1.4% of the abortions in England, Scotland and Wales happen at over 20 weeks. With our clients, it’s 8%, because they spend so long trying to raise the money.’ How can this be a better thing?