A woman who reported her housemate to police in Northern Ireland for buying drugs online to abort an unborn child has defended the move.
The woman who aborted her child was prosecuted under the region’s strict abortion laws and was handed a three-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months.
The defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, claimed she was unable to raise enough money to travel to England to access a lawful termination.
The pregnant woman miscarried a male foetus, aged between 10 and 12 weeks, after taking two types of abortion pills she purchased on the internet in 2014. She placed the aborted foetus in the bin, where her two housemates discovered it.
The case has sparked a fresh row about abortion laws in Northern Ireland. Both sides of the ever-divisive debate have criticised the outcome, though for very different reasons.
While pro-choice campaigners have denounced the prosecution, pro-life advocates have insisted the sentence was too lenient.
The housemate who reported the woman to police insisted people had to live by the law in Northern Ireland, whether they agreed with it or not.
“I know people may say it’s stupid (the law) and things like that, but it’s still the law, you have to abide by the law that’s here until that changes,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous.
“If this (case) even makes it change then fair enough, but if you break the law you have to be punished.
“At the minute it’s the law and if you break the law you have to be punished.”
In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster, the woman said she felt bad about what had happened to her housemate and had regrets, but said she could not have lived with herself if she did not take action about the foetus in her bin.
“A week went by and the guilt of a baby in the bin was eating us up,” she said.
The woman added: “I did want justice for the baby because obviously it wasn’t the wee baby’s fault.”
She said she had been subjected to online abuse since the case became public.
The sentencing judge told the court in Belfast on Monday that Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation was 150 years old.
Abortion drugs can be accessed in the rest of the UK, but should be taken under medical supervision.
The maximum penalty for the crime of administering a drug to induce miscarriage under the relevant law in Northern Ireland, namely the Offences Against The Person Act 1861, is life imprisonment.
Across the border in the Irish Republic, the offence of procuring an abortion carries a potential 14-year jail term.
The Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said the case met the evidential threshold and its pursuance was in the public interest.
Amnesty International has described the prosecution as “appalling”.
But pro-life campaign group Precious Life has called for an appeal against the sentence, alleging it was unduly lenient. Director of public prosecutions Barra McGrory has received a request from Precious Life to examine the case.
A PPS spokesman said: “The PPS can confirm that we have received a letter from a legal representative of Precious Life which outlines that organisation’s concerns over the sentence passed in this case. The matters raised in the correspondence will be examined carefully in line with our protocols around unduly lenient sentences in the Crown Court.”