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abortion drone
Photography Mark Godefroy

Why an abortion pills drone was flown to Northern Ireland

Protestors delivered the prescribed pills by air from the south to the north of Ireland, in an act of defiance against the ‘draconian’ laws surrounding abortion access

Yesterday saw pro-choice activists fly abortion pills into Northern Ireland using a drone, in protest against the country’s strict laws around abortion access.

The drone flew from the Republic of Ireland to Narrow Water Castle near Newry in Northern Ireland. Action was organized by Alliance for Choice; Rosa; Labour Alternative, the Abortion Rights Campaign; Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Women on Waves.

The medicine delivered on the drone was mifepristone, which is listed as an essential medicine by the World Health Organisation as of 2005.

Abortion is extremely restricted on both sides of the Irish border, with the medical practice only available if women meet the criteria for serious and long-term risk to mental or physical health. Women across the country, from north to south, are forced to travel to places like England to access a safe abortion. Unlike English women, they can't receive one on the NHS, meaning the costs of travel, accommodation and the actual procedure run into the high hundreds for over 4,000 women every year. It's obviously a dilapidating and exhaustive process, financially, emotionally and physically. All for something that comes under a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body.

In April, a woman in Belfast who procured abortion pills to induce a miscarriage online was handed a suspended sentence. Local women’s groups called it an example of NI’s “draconian” rule on women’s bodily autonomy. And just this month, a UN committee ruled that the Republic of Ireland’s abortion laws violated women’s fundamental rights.

Courtney Robinson, 18, took the pills that arrived by drone in an act of protest. She 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. As long as politicians in Stormont and the Dail continue to ignore human rights, we aren’t going to stop.”

Women on Waves, a group from the Netherlands, contributed to the organization of the drone. The Dutch group work with a ship to provide contraceptives, information, training, workshops, and safe and legal abortion services outside territorial waters in countries where abortion is illegal.

A spokesperson for the organisation said the drone action was an “act of solidarity with Northern Irish women who are forced to travel to access a right to a safe abortion”. They added: “We intend to show international defiance against abortion laws that go against human. The pills were prescribed by registered doctors so they’re were completely legal. We intend to keep highlighting the violations of women’s rights across the world.”

A group of protestors picketed outside Belfast’s Court of Appeal, where the High Court’s ruling over abortion breaching the Convention of Human Rights will be heard.

Katie English, a Northern Irish woman who attended the protest, said: “Abortion in Northern Ireland is a clear class issue. Women in Northern Ireland are being punished under a law which can only be described as archaic – implemented before the invention of the lightbulb.

Yesterday we stood in solidarity with women from the south and Women on Waves from the Netherlands to demand the changes to abortion access that have already been identified as incompatible with Human Rights legislation.”

Rachel Watters, who was also at the protest, described the archaic structure that NI women are forced to live under. “I attended the demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice because I think the lack of reproductive rights granted to pregnant people in Northern Ireland is shameful,” she said. “It shouldn't be a matter of controversy to state that abortion ought to be made free, safe and legal in Belfast and Derry as it is in Birmingham or London, given that NI citizens pay the same national insurance and contribute to the NHS. But the majority of the MLAs in Stormont are anti-choice and reluctant to bring our abortion law into the 21st century, regardless of frequent criticism by international human rights bodies including the UNHRC.

Demonstrations like this are intended to show solidarity to people with crisis pregnancies or fatal fetal abnormalities who are denied support by the state, and to remind our elected representatives that they can't ignore this issue and hope it will all go away. We'll continue to protest, lobby and inform the public until full reproductive choice is made available locally.”