Northern Ireland’s largest trade union has expressed strong concerns over the country’s draconian abortion laws, following the recent conviction of a 21-year-old woman for taking abortion pills. Unite, the union, said the abortion laws are a “class issue,” criminalizing working-class women and potentially putting them at risk of arrest if they miscarry.

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The woman pleaded guilty to procuring her own abortion earlier this month and was handed a suspended sentence. She took the pills when she was 19 and living with housemates, who reported her to the police.

Unite represents 1.4 million workers in Northern Ireland, the republic of Ireland and Great Britain; they’re calling on the broader union movement to condemn the woman’s prosecution and the country’s abortion laws. At a trade union conference Wednesday, Taryn Trainor, Unite’s “regional equality officer,” warned that women having miscarriages who go to the hospital for help could instead find themselves being questioned about whether they’d self-induced abortions. From the Guardian:

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Speaking at an ICTU regional conference in Derry, Trainor said the entire union movement must lobby the Public Prosecution Service to drop prosecutions against these women.

She said: “It’s not acceptable that women are being criminalised for making choices about when they have children. It’s not acceptable that it is legal to access abortion and purchase abortion pills in the rest of the UK but it is unlawful here in Northern Ireland.

“This young woman now has a criminal record that will have implications for her future career. It will also stop her from obtaining visas to travel. Is it the case now that women are going to have to justify miscarriages in case anyone suspects they took abortion pills?”

The Northern Ireland section of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions passed a resolution condemning the woman’s prosecution and asking the country’s Public Prosecution Service not to charge anyone else under what Trainor called “this outdated law.”


Protesters in Northern Ireland lobby to keep the procedure illegal, 2012. Photo via AP