Abortion pills the BBC and the Supreme Court


To members of WRDA it will come as no surprise that last week the BBC did a hatchet job on a story about abortion pills in Northern Ireland, on the back of yet another woman being reported to police for obtaining the pills to procure an abortion after she sought medical help.


The safety of the Early Medical Abortion Pills (EMA) was misrepresented and indeed the report ultimately amounted to scaremongering by the BBC, which has the potential to put more women's lives at risk, rather than helping anyone.


The reporter ordered pills online from a 'dubious' site and had the pills tested which proved to be what they said they were (Mifepristone and Misoprostol). These drugs are cited by the World Health Organisation as safer than Aspirin and Viagra.


Alliance for Choice had sent a press release with some very clear research on these pills, particularly relating to women in Northern Ireland, only a week before. It included a study of over 5600 women who procured the pills to obtain an abortion. 98% said they were so satisfied with the treatment they would recommend it to a friend.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27748001


The BBC piece which was picked up nationally reported “There are now warnings that women are putting their health at risk by taking abortion pills bought online. The drugs cause blood loss and some people are likely to need treatment if they use them.”http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-37789341


The side effect of bleeding is actually what the drugs are designed to do - an induced miscarriage is impossible without losing blood, but the risk of needing a blood transfusion is RARE - less than 0.2%. Watching a male reporter speak to a male researcher about female blood loss was beyond ironic for women who deal with this regularly through menstruation, birth, miscarriage and abortion.


Women in NI who have no access to funds/papers to travel have these pills as their only option, and paying £70 as opposed to £1,000 and having to travel is a ‘no brainer.’


The financial issue last week was again put under the spotlight as two Northern Irish women were taking their case to the UK Supreme Court to argue as UK citizens the woman should have been able to access abortion services on the NHS like other UK tax payers.


The case at the centre of the hearing was originally brought in 2014 by a young woman, A, and her mother, B. The young woman was 15 when she and her mother travelled to Manchester to have an abortion, at a reported cost of £900.


According to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), last year 833 women were recorded as having travelled from Northern Ireland to England and Wales for abortion care. If A succeeds it could open the way for women from Northern Ireland to be permitted abortions on the NHS in England, until such times as the law is changes in Northern Ireland.


The legal argument is that the Secretary of State for Health failed to discharge his duty under section three of the NHS Act 2006 to "meet all reasonable requirements" in England for services - including abortion. Patients regularly travel to England for other procedures which are covered under the NHS so why not abortion?


A also argues that her human rights under Article 8 and Article 12 of European Convention of Human Rights, have been breached and she has been discriminated against - by reason of being treated differently from other women in England.


However, the fact that abortion is legal in Northern Ireland – but only under exceptional circumstances remains the major obstacle.


Their challenge against a ruling that prevents women from Northern Ireland having free NHS abortions in England was unsuccessful at the High Court and the Court of Appeal, but they were granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.


In court, a lawyer for the two women said that women in A's position "find themselves in desperate and stressful practices and become second-class citizens in abortion".


He added that B said it was "more stressful, humiliating and traumatic for a 15-year-old girl than it needs to be".


Whether the human rights arguments in the case or the NHS Act arguments prevail, what we need in Northern Ireland is free, safe, legal abortion. We need healthcare services fit for purpose in Northern Ireland and we need them now.


Press Release by Alliance for Choice

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