A young Assembly candidate has said she is “not scared to break unjust laws” as it emerged that the authorities appear to have taken no action against protestors who openly handed out abortion tablets in Belfast.
In the wake of the conviction of a woman in Belfast who had obtained abortion drugs via the internet, the News Letter inquired if any action was ever taken over a protest in October 2014, which involved campaigners making a public show of having procured such pills via the web.
One of those involved – socialist Assembly candidate Courtney Robinson – said the PSNI have done “absolutely nothing” since the event.
Meanwhile statements from the police provide little indication of pending action (see below).
The 21-year-old woman convicted this month had pleaded guilty to procuring her own abortion by using a poison, and of supplying a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage.
Ms Robinson, 18 and standing in East Belfast for the Labour Alternative party, said that if the police now decided to pursue her and fellow campaigners over their 2014 protest, “we’re ready for it”.
The head of the Royal College of Midwives warned in the News Letter earlier this year that abortion pills are readily available at the click of a mouse, and that Northern Ireland’s MLAs have their “heads in the sand” about the fact women are having abortions in Northern Ireland despite its tough laws.
The protest in October 2014 involved a group of women travelling up from Dublin to Belfast by train.
When they disembarked, they were met by Northern Irish campaigners who handed them packets of tablets as photographers and reporters looked on.
There were speeches and chants, and then the protestors returned to Dublin again where some of them swallowed the tablets in a bid to demonstrate that they are safe.
The event was a symbolic recreation of a cross-border pro-contraception campaign during the 1970s.
Ms Robinson told the News Letter her address was among those to which the pills had been sent, before being handed to the Dublin demonstrators.
She said buying such drugs from the web is illegal on both sides of the border.
Last year, women protested outside police stations in Londonderry and Belfast, telling police that they had illegally obtained pills and effectively encouraging officers to arrest them.
It is understood that no action was taken in these cases (see right).
However in the case of the October 2014 protest, the pills themselves (described on the packet as “a combipack of mifepristone and misoprostol”) were openly displayed by campaigners at the scene.
Ms Robinson said “absolutely nothing” had happened as a consequence.
She said: “My message to the police, but also to politicians who uphold the law, is that it isn’t workable. It isn’t fit for purpose either.
“You’d think the purpose of the law is to stop abortion – and it isn’t stopping abortion...
“The fact of the matter is that women are having abortions every single week in Northern Ireland.”
As to whether she is fearful that she may face action in the wake of the criminal case against the 21-year-old woman, she said that she is part of a wide network of women involved in such action and that there is “strength in our numbers”.
“I’m more worried because pills were delivered to our house and other women’s houses that family [could] end up being implicated,” she said.
However, she added: “If they did come for us, we’re ready for it.”
Asked if she was prepared to go to prison, she said: “We’re not scared to break unjust laws... we’re prepared for it.”
POLICE RESPONSES, ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BORDER:
Asked about the 2014 abortion train protest, the PSNI issued essentially the same statement they have repeatedly provided before when protestors from demonstrated outside police stations claiming that they had procured abortion pills.
In those cases, it is understood no action followed.
It said: “Abortion is a very emotive issue and as police our role is to uphold the law. 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 garda said that a prosecution could only take place if it was established the drugs were true abortion pills, and that this was a job for the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).
The HPRA said that since the pills were handed over in Belfast, “those who may have obtained medication there did so outside of our remit”.