The involvement of Women on Web and Women on Waves in the legalization of abortion in Northern Ireland

Women on Waves collaborated with Northern Irish abortion rights activists since 2001. During the abortion ship campaign in Ireland many abortion rights activists from Northern Ireland came down to Dublin participate in the campaign. 

On march 12, 2013.Alliance for Choice published an open letter, signed by more than 100 people from Northern Ireland  publicly admitted taking or buying abortion pills online.

On October 24, 2014 Women on Web supported Irish Parliamentarian Ruth Coppinger, ROSA and Northern Irish abortion rights activists in the abortion train campaign, to show how women from Ireland travel to Northern Ireland to obtain abortion pills.

In 2015 Women on Web started working with prof. James Trussell and prof. Abigail Aiken from Texas University. In the following 4 years they published several scientific articles about the use of abortion pills by women in Ireland and Northern Ireland, which were an important catalyzer for the legalization of abortion in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

In 2015, 2016 and 2017 there were several court case against women who had obtained medical abortions from Women on Web in 2013, 2014 and 2015. These court cases were against vulnerable women and violated the most basic human rights to health and privacy.  CEDAW reported in 2018 that between 2006 and 2015, the PSNI made 11 arrests related to illegal abortion. Between 2011 and 2016, five people were questioned and arrested for possession of abortifacients, two were convicted. 

The first court case started on June 19 2015. A Belfast woman was prosecuted for helping her 16 years old daughter to have a medical abortion in 2013. The woman requested a Judicial Review, which was granted on January 25 th, 2017.  A group of pro-bono lawyers submitted an intervention on behalf of Women on Web. 

A second court case was heard on January 11 th, 2016 against a girl of 19 who obtained a medical abortion through women on web and used it to do a medical abortion.  The crown prosecutor  said that on 20 July 2014 the Police Service of Northern Ireland were contacted by the woman’s housemates. Women on web reached out to her and advised a good lawyer with expertise on the abortion law. Unfortunately her own lawyers advised her to plead guilty and in april she was convicted to a 3 months suspended sentence.  

In June 2016, Women on Waves, together with Rosa and Northen Ireland activists flew abortion pills with the abortion drone from Ireland to Northern Ireland to call attention to the consequences of illegal abortions in Northern Ireland.  Two women publicly swallowed the abortion pills even though the police was filming the action and had warned they would intervene if we would not disclose whether the women were pregnant. 

On 17 October 2016, the first scientific paper by Trussell and Aiken which showed that 5,650 women from Ireland and Northern Ireland accessed the Women on Web abortion service from 2010 to 2015, was covered widely by the media.

The third court case was heard on January 11, 2017. The woman, aged 21, was charged with using a Mifepristone and Misoprostol to procure her own abortion in 2015. The judge imposed a ban on identifying the woman due to the heightened risk of suicide from any publicity. The man and woman have accepted formal cautions.

In May 2017, another scientific study about the safety of the use of medical abortion in Ireland  and Northern Ireland was published in BMJ.

In June 2017, Great Britain, Scotland and Wales decided that all women from Northern Ireland would receive NHS funded abortions.

In February 2018, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report saying that the U.K. was “violating the rights of women in Northern Ireland by unduly restricting their access to abortion,” in direct contradiction of CEDAW.  Women on Web also provided information for this report

On May 31, 2018, our the abortion robot successfully delivered abortion pills to 2 women in Northern Ireland. There was an overwhelming amount of police officers present during the action and the robots were arrested. In the afternoon, the Bus4Choice toured Northern Ireland offering free ultrasounds and medical counsel.  

December 2018, new research found that despite a policy change to provide free abortion services for women traveling from Northern Ireland to clinics in Great Britain, Northern Irish women still experience multiple barriers. The study also found that some women preferred to self-manage their own abortions at home, but that the experience is dominated by fear and isolation due to the risk of prosecution.

On July 9, 2019 U.K. Members of Parliament backed an amendment to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland by 332 votes to 99

From 22 October 2019,  abortion is decriminalised in Northen Ireland and women should be informed that ​all travel, and where needed accommodation, will be funded​. If a health professional does choose to offer an abortion services, they should do so in line with their professional competence and guidance from their professional body. There are no plans for routinely available abortion services in Northern Ireland before 31 March 2020 and Women on Web will make sure women will be able to access safe abortion pills as long as needed. 

On 23 Oct 2019, the woman in Northern Ireland who was prosecuted for buying online abortion pills for her daughter was formally acquitted.