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Have a miscarriage, and you could be reported to the police

Northern Ireland’s largest trade union is warning women who go to hospitals with miscarriages that they could end up being questioned by police

If you believe that control over your reproductive processes is a vital right for any woman living in the 21st century today, then Northern Ireland is not a good place for you to be. After last week’s case in which a young woman was prosecuted for self-inducing an abortion after her housemates reported her to police, the issue of abortion access in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (where abortion is illegal in all but the most extreme of circumstances) is very much in the public eye.

Now the biggest trade union in Northern Ireland is warning that if women miscarry, they could be reported to the police. A particular concern is that women who have miscarriages might have to justify them to employers, friends or health services – lest people suspect they took abortion pills, and report them to the authorities. Women who have abortions in Northern Ireland (most commonly self-administered abortions, where they buy pills online which will terminate the pregnancy) can be prosecuted under the Offences Against the Person Act – a law that dates from the 19th century.

Speaking to Dazed, Unite’s Northern Ireland Equalities Officer Taryn Trainor said, “My concern is that, say somebody has a miscarriage, and somebody else had suspicions, they could potentially report that woman to the police. For example, if you had an abusive ex-partner that you wanted to leave, and you found yourself pregnant and miscarried – he could call the police and say you'd taken abortion pills. So we’re really concerned about where this prosecution from last week is going to lead. It’s such an outdated law, and it needs to be repealed”. 

The situation for women seeking abortions in Northern Ireland can often seem impossibly difficult, particularly if you don’t have the financial resource to travel to the UK for treatment. But with fears that women could now be criminalised for miscarrying, it’s possible things may get much worse, before they get better (if they get better at all).