The Police Service of Northern Ireland raided two premises on International Women’s Day searching for abortion pills that are illegal in the region.
No pills were found during the searches last week, including one at a workshop belonging to the Belfast pro-choice campaigner Helen Crickard. Crickard said she felt “violated and humiliated” over the raids in South Belfast.
The PSNI confirmed on Monday that the raids had taken place. Det Supt Bobby Singleton stressed that abortion was a “sensitive issue that divides opinion within society”. He added that where an offence has been committed, the PSNI had a duty to bring offenders to justice.
Unlike the rest of the UK, doctors cannot prescribe abortion pills in Northern Ireland.
Last year, three women handed themselves in to police in Derry, stating they had procured and taken illegal abortion pills and requested that they be prosecuted in protest at Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. Since then, pro-choice campaigners have continued to challenge the PSNI to arrest them after they admitted purchasing abortion pills for other women in Northern Ireland.
Also in 2016, a 21-year-old woman was given a suspended prison sentence for buying drugs online to induce a miscarriage. She had been reported by her flatmates after they found out she had taken the abortion pills.
A mother is facing prosecution for procuring abortion pills for her then underage daughter.
Women in Northern Ireland who want to terminate a pregnancy can either travel to England or Wales for an abortion at a cost of about £1,000-£2,000. Northern Ireland residents are not eligible for the procedure on the NHS and have to pay for private treatment, as well as the cost of the flight and hotels.
Alternatively, women at an early stage of pregnancy can buy mifepristone and misoprostol pills online, for about £60; the pills are considered safe and reliable in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. As well as buying the pills on the internet, pro-choice campaigners have also flown the drugs into Northern Ireland via drones.