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November 9, 2018 (SPUC) – The case is not all it seems. 

The schoolgirl at the heart of a challenge to Northern Ireland's abortion laws may have been a victim of coercion, a lawyer for the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has suggested.

The case involves a woman who is accused of buying abortion drugs online and giving them to her 15-year-old daughter. She faces two charges of unlawfully procuring and supplying the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol with intent to procure a miscarriage.

Attempt to challenge NI's pro-life laws

Despite the fact that both buying abortion pills online and taking them without medical approval is illegal across the UK, the woman is seeking to overturn the decision by the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland to bring her to criminal trial.

Lawyers for the mother and daughter, supported by Amnesty International, claim that the prosecution breaches their human rights. 

However, a lawyer representing the PPS told the court yesterday that another interpretation of the circumstances was that the 15-year-old was “the potential victim of a criminal offence”.

Possible coercion to take dangerous drugs

Tony McGleenan QC said that the notes from the doctor who referred the case to the police contain disputed “hints” of feeling pressured over taking the abortion drugs.

After the first day of evidence, the media carried reports that the unnamed girl had been “marched out [of the] classroom by police” for questioning. However, a lawyer for the PSNI responded yesterday that the officer involved was focused only on her state of well-being, and never intended to question her.

Mr McGleenan also said that a key question was how far along the girl's pregnancy was. “In this case the critical questions are – is the medication appropriate, and is your pregnancy under 10 weeks?” he said. “The information here is very sketchy about that, we don’t have definitive dates.”

This concern is exacerbated by that fact that the mother had filled in the online form to get the pills which should have been completed by the daughter.

Hence, not only were the pills obtained illegally online, and taken by a schoolgirl without medical supervision (possibly under coercion), they may have been taken at a dangerously late gestation. 

Both lives matter

Attorney General John Larkin QC also addressed the court. He argued that the Human Rights Act, under which the application for judicial review was being sought, was actually prohibited from being used to halt the prosecution of criminal offences. He also pointed out that an attempt to change Northern Ireland’s abortion regime had been “comprehensively rejected” by the Stormont Assembly in February 2016.

“The law in Northern Ireland is that both lives matter,” Mr Larkin added. “It seeks to protect both the mother and child, and I invite this court to continue to uphold it.”

Judgement has been reserved in the case. Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said the three Judges would give their decision as soon as they could.

Reprinted with permission from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.


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