On Tuesday, June 21, a drone will depart from Ireland to Northern Ireland carrying Misoprostol and Mifepristone, which are used in medication abortions. The “Abortion Drone” was made possible by a coalition of pro-choice Irish organizations, including Alliance for Choice, Rosa, Labour Alternative and Women on Waves. Its contents will allow its recipient, who is legally importing the pills as allowed under UK legislation, to obtain a medical abortion.
Ireland’s legislation regarding abortion is some of the strictest in the world. Ireland’s 2013 Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act completely outlaws abortion except in circumstances where a woman’s life is at immediate risk due to health concerns or suicide. Though Northern Ireland is governed by different legislation, its effects in terms of prohibiting abortion are basically the same. This has resulted in thousands of women being forced to travel to other European countries to obtain an abortion. However, due to the fact that Mifepristone and Misoprostol have been authorized by the Health Products Regulatory Agency and the European Medicines Agency, respectively, it is legal to import the medication into Ireland for personal use and then transport it by drone to Northern Ireland.
Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws have not gone unquestioned. The Belfast High Court ruled in 2015 that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which reads that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” After an Irish woman was forced to carry a non-viable fetus to term, a Geneva-based UN Human Rights Committee ordered Ireland to “amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy… to ensure compliance with the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights], including effective, timely, and accessible procedures for pregnancy termination.” However, these decrees are difficult to enforce; the Irish government still has yet to amend its policies, and women continue to be prosecuted for terminating their pregnancies.
The “abortion drone” to be launched on Tuesday complies with laws that apply to Northern Ireland concerning electronic medical prescriptions, as well as UK laws that deal with the transport and importing of controlled substances and international restricted goods. After the drone’s flight, a protest will be held in front of the Court of Appeal in Belfast, where the Court’s decision that Ireland’s abortion laws breach the European Convention on Human Rights will be appealed.