The housemates of a Northern Irish woman who received a suspended prison sentence earlier this week for inducing an abortion with pills purchased online have shared their side of the story.
The case has received widespread international media attention, with Amnesty International and many reproductive rights groups speaking out against Northern Ireland for its hardline anti-abortion legislation. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where abortion is illegal, though it is also still illegal in the Republic of Ireland.
The case concerned a now 21-year-old Belfast woman, whose name has not been released, who in July 2014 induced an abortion with pills she had purchased online. On July 20, 2014, her two housemates called the Police Service of Northern Ireland to report her actions.
They have since been the target of significant backlash online for reporting their housemate, who was 19-years-old at the time and could not afford the cost of traveling to London for an abortion in a clinic.
In an anonymous interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the housemates have now shared their side of the story.
One of the housemates, a 38-year-old woman from Belfast, told the newspaper that she had tried to discuss a number of alternatives with her younger housemate, including offering to become the baby’s legal guardian if she carried it full term.
"I really tried to help her. I talked through a number of options but she just didn't want to know," she said.
"She called the baby 'the pest' and kept saying she just wanted rid of it. She said: 'I don't want this inside me.' I offered a number of times to become legal guardian to the child. I myself had just had a miscarriage.
"She said she was going to order these pills online. I tried to talk her out of it. She didn't tell us they had arrived. The first I knew that she had taken them was on the Friday night when she said she was getting awful cramps.
"The next day I was downstairs on my own and she phoned me from her bedroom and asked me if I could bring her a pair of scissors. I wasn't thinking straight. I went upstairs with them. She was lying in bed and I asked what she wanted them for. She said 'this is hanging out of me on a piece of string'.”
The woman said that later in the day her roommate came downstairs and put a plastic bag into the communal trash can.
“A bit later I was going to put rubbish out in the bin and there was the bag. When my other housemate came home on the Sunday we went and looked in the bag in the bin. There was the baby on a towel.
"I didn't expect the baby to be so fully formed. The court was told she was 10 to 12 weeks pregnant when she obtained the tablets, but he seemed older. He had fingers, little toes. Even now I just have a picture in my mind of it. Its wee foot was perfect.”
Both of the housemates said that they are not entirely “anti-abortion,” but that it was the woman’s attitude about the situation that bothered them.
"This isn't anything to do with the rights and wrongs of abortion. I'm not anti-abortion. I believe there are circumstances, like rape, where it should be a woman's choice,” said the 38-year-old from Belfast.
"There was absolutely no remorse. Even the way she was up and away out and doing her own thing a day after the abortion, while me and our other house-mate just walked around in shock.”
The other housemate, a 22-year-old woman from northern coast of Northern Ireland, voiced a similar opinion.
"We tried so hard to support her when she told us about the pregnancy, but it made me so angry when she kept calling it 'the pest'. Then, after the abortion, she showed no remorse. It was so weird the way she reacted to what had happened," she told the newspaper.
"I tried to be nice to her. But really there was no sign of remorse at all, her attitude really got to me. I asked her why she wouldn't give the baby a proper burial and she said 'do you want me to put it in a bag and throw it up the street?' I was so angry at her attitude. I eventually cracked up and told a friend. I was a frantic mess. He was shocked and told me I had to contact the police."
She also expressed shock at the backlash against herself and the other housemate who called the police.
"It is just insane the way we are being portrayed as being the bad ones in this. The abuse we are getting is just awful. People are accusing us of having no compassion for not getting her help. But she begged and pleaded with us not to tell anyone.
"This isn't a debate about the rights and wrongs of abortion. The way this was done was wrong. The baby had hands, feet, all its facial features, its little nose. I can't stop thinking that it might have been alive when it was born. It is awful," she said.
During the trial, the woman’s defense attorney argued that his client felt “isolated and trapped … with no one to turn to” and resorted to “desperate measures.”
He said that the woman “was trying to put her life back together again” and has since had a baby with her partner.
He also noted that had the woman been in any other part of the UK except for Northern Ireland, she would “not have found herself before the courts.”
Per the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 and the Abortion Act of 1967, anyone found guilty of carrying out an abortion in Northern Ireland is technically eligible for life in prison.
The woman pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence of three months, placing her on a probationary period of two years.