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Mother who bought online abortion pills for daughter cleared after Northern Ireland law change

Pro-choice protesters outside Stormont on Monday. Credit: PA

A woman from Northern Ireland who was being prosecuted for buying abortion pills online for her teenage daughter has been formally acquitted after the laws changed at midnight on Monday.

A judge directed a jury at Belfast Crown Court to find the mother not guilty.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been facing two counts of procuring and supplying the abortion drugs with the intent to procure a miscarriage, contrary to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

That 19th century legislation fell away at midnight on Monday when abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland.

Same-sex marriages were also decriminalised at the same time.

The prosecution offered no evidence on Wednesday morning.

Pro-life protesters were also outside Stormont on Monday. Credit: PA

The legislation to decriminalise both abortion and same-sex marraige was passed by Westminster in July under the premise it would take effect by October 21 if the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive had not been reformed.

Stormont has not met in three years but the DUP tried to get the Assembly to sit on Monday in order to thwart the new laws but now all parties attended.

DUP leader Arlene Foster called it "a shameful day" for Northern Ireland.

On Wednesday, Judge David McFarland said that despite the law being repealed, he was required to go through the legal formalities and swear in a jury.

Once the eight men and four women were sworn in, a prosecution lawyer confirmed to the court that the Crown would be offering no evidence.

The judge then directed the jury to find the woman not guilty.

The mother had been excused from attending the short hearing.

After the verdict, she expressed her relief.

"My emotions are all over the place and I find it hard to put into words how I am feeling," she said in a statement.

"For the first time in six years I can go back to being the mother I was, without the weight of this hanging over me every minute of every day, and I can finally move on with my life.

"I am so thankful that the change in the law will allow other women and girls to deal with matters like this privately in their own family circle."

A judge directed a jury at Belfast Crown Court to find the mother not guilty. Credit: UTV

Her solicitor, Jemma Conlon, of Chambers Solicitors, said: "Today is a day of immense relief for my client, who now finds herself free from the burden of this prosecution that has been in her life for six years.

"It is a day that she will forever remember and a day that allows her to finally move on with her life privately without anguish and criminalisation."

Outside court, Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty International, which had been supporting the woman, said the outcome was evidence of a new "compassionate" legal framework in Northern Ireland.

"Today we are relieved that she can go back to being a mother," she said.

"What we are seeing today is our new abortion law taking effect. No longer will women be hauled through the courts and treated as criminals for accessing this healthcare service.

"This is the beginning of a new era for Northern Ireland - a more caring and compassionate Northern Ireland. This mother is now free to move on from this ordeal and go back to her family."

The ruling comes after a landmark change to abortion law Credit: UTV

Ms Teggart outlined the impact the prosecution has had on the mother.

"This has had a devastating impact," she said. "Of course, first and foremost on the mother but also on her daughter. She has been used as tool in her prosecution.

"She turned to her mother for help when she needed it. Her mother did what any other parent would arguably have done and provided that help, and she was prosecuted for doing so - that should never have happened."