Over a hundred Northern Irish women risk jail after their public admission that they took illegal abortion pills.
The women have signed a letter admitting their actions amid attempts to halt an amendment that would make non-NHS abortions illegal in Ulster.
The Observer newspaper reports that the women have signed a letter openly confirming that they took abortion pills bought on the internet from pro-choice charities.
Belfast-born student Suzanne Lee, 23, told the Observer she was prepared to be arrested and taken to court over her decision last August to take abortion pills, bought on the internet from pro-choice group Women On Web, when seven weeks’ pregnant.
Lee said: “If the pro-life people want to report me to the public prosecution service and try to send me to jail – go for it!
“I am willing to face the consequences because I knew doing this was illegal. I am speaking out because I’m happy to stand up in court and try to highlight how absurd this situation is.”
The report says the women’s’ action further fuels the debate prompted by the opening of the first private clinic to offer legal abortions to women in the province.
The paper reports that 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act makes abortion illegal in most cases and carries a penalty of life imprisonment.
Several men who helped women obtain the pills have also signed the letter.
The 19th-century act also makes it a serious offence to help someone procure an abortion.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where women cannot get an abortion through the NHS except in extreme circumstances, such as when a mother’s life is at risk.
Historically, thousands of Northern Irish women have crossed the Irish Sea to have terminations in English hospitals and clinics.
Pro-choice campaigners have mounted their campaign after an attempt by assembly members Alban Maginness of the SDLP and Democratic Unionist Paul Girvan to amend Northern Ireland’s criminal justice bill.
The amendment is intended to make abortions outside the NHS in the province illegal.
It will prevent the recently opened Marie Stopes clinic in central Belfast from providing non-surgical, early-term procedures.
The women have admitted in the letter that they: “have either taken the abortion pill or helped women to procure the abortion pill in order to cause an abortion here in Northern Ireland.”
The letter adds: “We represent just a small fraction of those who have used, or helped others to use, this method because it is almost impossible to get an NHS abortion here, even when there is likely to be a legal entitlement to one.
“We are publishing this letter now because of the Maginness/Girvan amendment to the criminal justice bill which we believe is aimed at closing down the debate on abortion here, as much as it is about closing down Marie Stopes.
“We want to emphasise that medical abortions happen in Northern Ireland on a daily basis but without any medical support or supervision.
“We were delighted when Marie Stopes came to Belfast as it meant that women who are unwell can access a doctor to supervise what we have done or helped others to do without medical help.
“And therefore have a right to a legal abortion here.”
The Observer report concludes that the Alliance For Choice pro-abortion group claims the Maginness-Girvan amendment, which will be debated at Stormont this Tuesday, will not only shut down Marie Stopes’s abortion services but the entire debate.