This week a drone, carrying a supply of pregnancy termination drugs, was flown into Northern Ireland as a protest against NI’s draconian anti-abortion laws.
Northern Ireland’s status as the most religious part of the UK might be a relevant factor in its opposition to abortion.
In the 2011 Census, some 82.3 percent of its residents described themselves as Christian compared with 59.4 percent in England, 53.8 percent in Scotland and 57.6 percent in Wales. All the main denominations in Northern Ireland oppose abortion.
The drugs are safe for women to use up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. It set off from the Republic of Ireland and flew to Northern Ireland, where it landed and two women took the pills.
The women who did so didn’t say whether they were pregnant or not, arguing that was private medical information. While police officers were present at the landing site, they didn’t confiscate the medication, which had been prescribed by doctors.
Although abortions are illegal in both parts of Ireland, the differing laws in the two countries allow for a drone to fly the pills between them.
One of the women, 18-year-old Courtney Robinson, said:
I took the pills to counter the lies of anti-choice groups and some politicians that these pills aren’t safe. They’re approved by the World Health Organisation and they’re used all over Europe, and yet women (in Northern Ireland) are being prosecuted for taking them … This is an act of solidarity with them.
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, have some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. The procedure is criminalised in both parts of Ireland.
In Northern Ireland, the penalty for administering a drug to induce an abortion is governed by a law from 1861 and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. In the Irish Republic, procuring an abortion potentially carries a 14-year jail term.
These laws are more than just archaic legal ink. In April, a 21-year old woman was given a suspended prison sentence in Northern Ireland, where abortion is illegal unless the life of the mother is at risk. When she was 19, she had ordered abortion pills online and self-administered them because she didn’t have the money to travel to another part of the UK, where the procedure is legal.
Women who wish to receive abortions are forced to go abroad and undertake great expense to receive termination, even in cases of rape, incest, and when the foetus wouldn’t be able to survive.
The UN and an Irish court have both found these restrictions violate a woman’s human rights.
The abortion drone was both a protest and a demonstration of unity between the North and South, Rita Harrold of Rosa, one of the pro-choice groups behind the flight, said in a press release.
Today’s action is a clear message of intent – North and South we will build an unstoppable movement of women and young people until women have the right to control their own bodies.
This isn’t the first time the abortion drone has been deployed. In 2015, a coalition of reproductive rights groups — led by Women on Waves, who are also involved in this latest flight — flew from Germany to Poland, another predominantly Catholic country with extremely strict abortion laws.
While the drones can only carry enough medication for a few women, they are effective conversation starters, highlighting the great disparities in women’s access to full reproductive care. In addition to the drone, Women on Waves employed an RC speedboat on Tuesday to send more pills into Ireland.
Dr Rebecca Gompers, the founder of Women on Waves, above, has built her advocacy career on pushing the boundaries of international abortion law. Women on Waves gets its name from her first widely publicised effort: a clinic on a ship, registered in the Netherlands and thus in international waters under Dutch law, which allowed her to bring medical abortion to women in countries where it’s illegal.
Gompers also instructs women around the world on how to use abortion pills to safely take their reproductive health into their own hands using just misoprostol, which is available in most pharmacies because it’s used for other medical purposes.
Although the combination of the two abortion drugs together is considered the safest way to end a pregnancy, and has been approved by the World Health Organisation as “essential medicine,” by just taking the right dosage of misoprostol, women in countries without legal abortion access can induce their own abortions.
Research by the world health organisation has proven that an abortion with pills can be done safely at home by women themselves till 10 weeks of pregnancy. The health impact is similar to a miscarriage. Restrictive abortion laws will not keep women from accessing abortion pills, by ship, by mail, through the internet, drone or RC speedboat!