The failure to take any action against a group of women who claimed to have openly broken abortion laws highlights the “random” nature of the way they are enforced.
That is the view from the director of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) who said that the freely available nature of illegal abortion pills renders the whole recent political furore about a limited relaxation of the rules redundant.
She was speaking after it emerged that, several months on, police have taken no action over demonstrators who publicly claimed to have obtained such drugs.
The protest was sparked by the decision to prosecute a woman for allegedly purchasing medication of this kind.
It had centred on Belfast’s Musgrave PSNI Station last summer, where a list of about 200 names was read out – including people who were physically present at the demonstration – claiming that they had done exactly the same thing.
The RCM’s Northern Ireland director Breedagh Hughes said she knew of two court cases concerning individuals who had allegedly bought medication on the internet to induce an abortion.
However, there appears to be “no appetite to prosecute the women who have volunteered themselves up” she said, adding that it shows the law seems to be “very randomly” applied.
Although many Northern Irish women are widely understood to travel to England for abortions each year, terminations are effectively barred in Northern Ireland, except in cases where the mother’s health is in danger.
At the time of the Belfast protest Suzanne Lee (25 and from Newtownabbey) said she had bought abortion pills herself, and her message to police was: “Either you arrest us and uphold this law, or you do away with it.”
The PSNI said: “No arrests have been made in connection with a peaceful protest held in the Victoria Street area of Belfast... It would depend on the specific circumstances of an incident as to whether or not an offence has been committed and each case would be investigated on its own merit.”
The News Letter had inquired about whether any action had been taken over the protest following a long and emotive debate on abortion in the Assembly last month.
The MLAs had discussed whether to allow abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of alleged rape or where a child is not expected to live outside the womb.
Debate continued deep into the night. Ultimately both proposals failed.
Asked if she feels the apparent lack of interest in investigating those who claim to have defied existing law make a debate about changing that law redundant, Ms Hughes said: “It does.
“It means our politicians are living with their heads firmly buried in the sand, hoping that if they keep their heads down there and don’t open their eyes the whole thing will go away.
“Well, it isn’t going away. Women are buying medication on the web.”
She cautioned that such medication can be hazardous unless prescribed, and she warned against taking it.
She said: “They [the pills] are there. This is a fact of life.
“And if it is cheaper to purchase these pills from the web than it is to travel to England then there is no doubt women from Northern Ireland must be doing this.”