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Humanists UK welcomes decision to acquit mother who procured abortion pills for her daughter

Humanists UK has welcomed the decision to acquit a mother who faced up to five years in prison for procuring abortion pills for her underage daughter in Northern Ireland, after Humanists UK intervened in a judicial review on the prosecution last year.

Today the Belfast Crown Court found the mother not guilty of criminal charges. The mother was facing prosecution for unlawfully procuring and supplying abortion pills with the intent to procure a miscarriage contrary to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. She supplied the pills to her 15-year-old pregnant daughter who then had a termination.

In its decision, the Court recognised the new laws passed this week decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland from 22 October 2019 which also removed any outstanding prosecutions under the old laws. As a result, the mother was acquitted.

Last year the mother launched a judicial review on the decision to prosecute, known as JR76, which focussed on the breach of doctor-patient confidentiality as well as whether the regime in Northern Ireland complies with human rights in these circumstances. The prosecution was brought about after the family sought support, when social services reported the matter to the police. The police were then supplied with the daughter’s confidential GP records without her knowledge.

Humanists UK intervened providing evidence on the breach of human rights and the severe breach of doctor-patient confidentiality.

Humanists UK supports the rights of women and girls to dignity and personal autonomy, and accordingly their rights to choose and access safe and lawful abortion, regardless of the circumstances of their pregnancies. In recent years, it has intervened in several cases concerning Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: ‘It is excellent that the charges against the mother have now been dropped. The mother and her family have been through a tremendously difficult time and have been treated terribly under Northern Ireland’s former harsh abortion laws which have unfairly punished girls and women for making personal decisions about their bodies.’

NOTES:

For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read more about Northern Ireland’s move to decriminalise abortion: https://humanism.org.uk/2019/10/21/extraordinaryday-as-northern-ireland-legalises-abortion-same-sex-marriage/

Read more about our intervention here: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/09/18/humanists-uk-to-intervene-in-northern-ireland-abortion-case/

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

About Humanists UK’s intervention

Professor Savage’s evidence examined GMC and other guidance to argue that there shouldn’t have been a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality in this case. The evidence of the three philosophers concerned the philosophical concepts of autonomy, choice, dignity, and suffering, the absence of a compelling moral case for the almost total ban on abortion in Northern Ireland, and the absence of exemptions in the serious circumstances highlighted by the case. The evidence provided builds on Humanists UK’s unique interdisciplinary expertise, at the intersection of medical ethics, moral philosophy and law.

Humanists UK is represented by solicitor Janet Farrell of Bhatt Murphy solicitors through agent solicitors Harte, Coyle and Collins in Belfast. Stephen Cragg QC, assisted by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Katie O’Byrne (all barristers at Doughty Street Chambers) drafted the submissions for Humanists UK.

Humanists UK has long campaigned in defence of women’s reproductive rights and has intervened in the three other contemporary cases concerning Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws, A and B, NIHRC and the Sarah Ewart case. Its policies and approach to abortion are informed by its ethical position which supports a woman’s right to dignity and personal autonomy and accordingly to access a safe and lawful abortion with appropriate secular counselling and after-care should she choose to do so. It has successfully campaigned to oppose changes to the law in England and Wales that seek to restrict access to abortion. It is a member of the Voice for Choice coalition, the We Trust Women campaign, and the Back Off campaign. Its section Northern Ireland Humanists is a member of the Trust Women coalition, coordinated by Alliance for Choice.

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