International briefs: Women take abortion pills in Northern Ireland protest


LONDON — Abortion rights campaigners swallowed what they said were abortion pills outside a Belfast court Thursday, as pressure grows to ease Northern Ireland’s strict ban on terminating pregnancies.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. in which abortion is illegal in all but exceptional cases. Last week, the neighboring Republic of Ireland voted to remove a ban on abortions, putting pressure on the north to follow suit.

Campaigners used a small robot to distribute pills outside Belfast’s Laganside courts complex, before three women flanked by others dressed in “Handmaid’s Tale” outfits swallowed the tablets.

Police officers seized the pills and robot, and attempted to lead one woman away. They eventually left without detaining her.

Protest organizers didn’t say whether the women were pregnant, noting that it would be illegal for them to take the pills if they were. They said the robot was being operated from the Netherlands to avoid breaching the law.

Eleanor Crossey Malone, one of those who swallowed a pill, said she acted “in defiance of the extremely outdated, medieval, anti-choice laws that exist in Northern Ireland.”

“We are bringing it into the spotlight in order to demand that politicians take action on this immediately and extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland,” she said.

Some British lawmakers are calling on Prime Minister Theresa May’s government to change Northern Ireland’s abortion law.

The government says that is a matter for Northern Ireland’s Belfast-based administration, which is currently suspended amid a dispute between the main Catholic and Protestant parties.

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